BOMBING ATTACK NEAR CHENEY’S SURPRISE LOCATION DURING IRAQ
by Dave Clark and Olivier Knox Wed May 9, 1:20 PM ET
BAGHDAD (AFP) - A deadly
bomb attack in a once safe Kurdish city and a rocket blast in Baghdad's Green Zone served as a violent backdrop Wednesday
to a surprise Iraq visit by US Vice President Dick Cheney.
Cheney arrived in the war-torn
capital to meet senior Iraqi leaders just as a new poll revealed that 59 percent of American voters want the White House to
to set a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq.
The vice-president brought
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki the message that Washington's patience with the slow pace of
Iraq's political peace process is running
out, even as new attacks further undermined its progress.
A powerful bomb exploded
in front of the regional interior ministry in Arbil, the capital of northern Iraq's
autonomous Kurdish region, an area that has been spared the worst of Iraq's
descent into sectarian bloodshed.
The blast tore a two metre
(yard) deep crater in front of the ministry, and scattered the bodies of dead and injured outside the heavily guarded building.
Kurdistan's health minister, Zirian Abdelrahman, said 19 were people
killed, although his colleague at the interior ministry later gave a lower toll.
"It was a truck bomb carrying
cleaning products that targeted our ministry and killed 14 people and wounded 87, including government employees," regional
interior minister Karim Sinajri told journalists.
While insurgent car and
truck bombings are an almost daily scourge in central Iraq,
this was a rare incident in the Kurdish region, and a blow to its campaign to portray itself as an investor-friendly haven
a rocket exploded near the US embassy
in the fortified Green Zone during Cheney's visit, an Iraqi defence official said.
Smoke could be seen rising
near the US compound shortly after the
blast, which was heard at around 6:15 pm (1415 GMT). The Iraqi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, could not say
if there were any casualties.
Cheney's movements during
his visit were kept secret for security reasons, but the vice president later confirmed at at a press conference that "I spent
today here basically in our embassy and military headquarters."
Reporters covering Cheney's
trip to Iraq were ushered from their workspace
here after hearing a muffled boom that rattled the windows.
A spokeswoman for Cheney,
Lea Anne McBride, said "his meeting was not disrupted and he was not moved" as a result of the explosion.
Last Thursday, four Asian
contractors working for the US embassy
were killed in a rocket attack.
Insurgent and militia groups
opposed to the ongoing US troop presence in Iraq
regularly fire rockets and mortars into the Green Zone, a walled city district that houses the US embassy and Iraqi government.
Elsewhere in the city a
high-ranking official in the housing ministry was assassinated and a construction worker building a controversial wall around
the Sunni neighbourhood of Adhamiyah was shot dead.
US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell told reporters that after dropping by two-thirds due to a massive
security operation in the capital, assassinations and executions were on the rise again.
"There has been a slight
uptick in the last two weeks in the number of murders and executions observed in Baghdad,"
Both the Iraqi and US commands
refuse to reveal the figures upon which they base such reports. An interior ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity
told AFP that 25 bodies were found on Tuesday alone.
In the central Iraqi city
of Samarra, Sunni insurgents destroyed two police stations
belonging to the Shiite-led National Police just days after a deadly assault left 12 policemen dead, including their commander.
And in Al-Rashad, northern
Iraq, gunmen murdered four journalists
working for a US-sponsored weekly that has taken a strong line against terrorism.
Cheney was in Baghdad to warn top Iraqi leaders that US patience
with their faltering attempts to reunite Iraq's
warring factions is running short.
Shortly after the rocket
exploded, and after meeting Maliki and President Jalal Talabani, Cheney told reporters that he had sensed "a greater sense
of urgency" among Iraqi officials working to resolve the conflict.
"I did sense, today, a greater
awareness on the part of the Iraqi officials I talked to of the importance of their working together to resolve these issues
in a timely fashion," he said.
The White House's own sense
of urgency will have been fueled by the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, which showed that 59 percent of Americans support setting
a deadline for removing US troops from Iraq.
US Congress is working on a second bill that would seek to tie future troop funding to some kind of measure of success in
Iraq, but President
George W. Bush has vowed in advance to veto it.