Vice President Dick Cheney pressed Iraq's leaders to do more to reduce violence and achieve political reconciliation Wednesday in a visit punctuated by an explosion that shook windows at the U.S. Embassy where Cheney was visiting.
Cheney acknowledged the country still has serious security problems. Iraqi leaders "believe we are making progress, but we've got a long way to go," he said.
The vice president urged that Iraq's parliament abandon plans for a two-month summer vacation while U.S. forces are fighting. With important issues pending, including how to share Iraq's oil wealth, "any undue delay would be difficult to explain," Cheney said.
As Democrats clamor for an end to the four-year-old war and President Bush sags in the polls, the White House is under intense political pressure to show that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government is making progress.
White House counselor Dan Bartlett said in Washington that Cheney's trip "gives an opportunity at a very high level for this message to be delivered."
Eight days after Bush vetoed a bill setting deadlines for U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq, the White House also served notice that Bush would veto a follow-up bill drafted by House Democratic leaders that would pay for the Iraq war only into summer. At the same time, Defense Secretary Robert Gates held out hope that troops can begin withdrawing if the Iraqi government makes progress by fall.
Supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rallied in Baghdad and Shiite areas to the south to protest the Cheney visit and demand the withdrawal of American forces. Protesters in Baghdad and the holy city of Najaf chanted "No to the occupation" and "No to America."
In other developments: A suicide truck bomb ripped through the Interior Ministry in the relatively peaceful Kurdish city of Irbil on Wednesday, killing 14 people and wounding dozens, officials said. Kurdish officials blamed al Qaeda-linked insurgents for the first major attack in the regional capital in more than three years. Four Iraqi journalists were killed Wednesday in a drive-by shooting near the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, police said. The four worked for the independent Raad media company, which publishes several weekly newspapers and monthly magazines that are generally pro-government and deal with politics, education and arts.Police found four decapitated heads in the Sabtiyah area north of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, health officials said Wednesday. The body of a security officer was also found shot in the head and chest in Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, police said.The White House said President Bush would veto any bill drafted by House Democratic leaders that would fund the Iraq war only into the summer months. Some former top Iraq war commanders are taking the highly unusual step of appearing in TV ads that take on the president's policy, CBS News' Peter Maer reports. Retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, a self-described lifelong Republican, said the U.S. is on a "slow grind to nowhere in an Iraq mired in civil war." A new report by the group Save the Children says Iraq's child mortality rate is up 150 percent since 1990. Mark Strassmann reports that thousands of Baghdad's children live on the streets, with little to protect them from the daily violence.
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