Cheney Visits Baghdad and Praises War Effort; Bomb Kills 40 in Karbala
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
BAGHDAD, March 17 -- As the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq neared, Vice President Cheney flew unannounced into Baghdad on Monday and declared the U.S. effort to install democracy and stabilize Iraq a "successful endeavor" that has been "well worth the effort."
Making his first visit since the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops last year, Cheney characterized the changes in Iraq's security and political landscape as "phenomenal" and "remarkable." The vice president used the opportunity to reassert that there was "a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda" before the U.S. invasion, despite reports that have found no operational ties between the two.
The vice president's visit came on the same day that two U.S. soldiers were killed by a bomb near Baghdad and a female suicide bomber killed at least 40 people outside a Shiite shrine in Karbala. While Cheney traveled outside the heavily fortified Green Zone during the day, the streets were lined with troops and barriers, and some reporters traveling with him reported hearing explosions elsewhere in the city.
The five-year anniversary of the start of the war on Wednesday has prompted a variety of appraisals, not all as upbeat as the vice president's. Many Iraqis feel more optimistic because of the recent decline in violence, according to a new poll by ABC News and other news organizations, but they remain dissatisfied with the provision of basic services and job opportunities.
A report issued Monday by the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded that a humanitarian "crisis" has left millions of Iraqis with inadequate clean water, sanitation and health care.
"Five years after the outbreak of the war in Iraq, the humanitarian situation in most of the country remains among the most critical in the world," the 15-page report says.
The attack in Karbala occurred around sunset, just before the evening prayer. It took place a few hundred yards from the Imam Hussein shrine, one of the holiest houses of worship for Shiite Muslims.
Iraqi police said a woman wearing a suicide vest blew up in a street crowded with pedestrians and lined with outdoor cafes. A security guard stationed at an office of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's organization said she screamed "God is great" three times before the bomb detonated.
The bomb killed 40 people and wounded 65 others, according to a U.S. military statement, citing Iraqi security forces in Karbala. A spokesman for the Karbala health office, Salim Kadhum, said 42 people died and 73 were injured.
Jassem Mohammed, 28, owns a nearby men's clothing store, whose windows shattered and ceiling collapsed around him. "It was just horrible," he said, "something seen only in movies."
Cheney, who arrived aboard a C-17 transport on the first stop of a 10-day tour of the Middle East, focused on recent security gains and praised Iraqi leaders for making progress toward political reconciliation. While he pressed them to approve a law governing the oil industry and to set provincial elections in October, he said the situation had already improved enough to show the invasion was justified.
"If you reflect back on those five years, it's been a difficult, challenging, but nonetheless successful endeavor," he said at a news conference with Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. "We've come a long way in five years, and it's been well worth the effort."