Cheney visits Iraq, says it has `turned corner'

After a lull, insurgents renew attacks

December 19, 2005|By LOUISE ROUG | LOUISE ROUG,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Vice President Dick Cheney paid a surprise visit to Iraq yesterday, declaring that the United States had "turned the corner" in efforts to pacify the country. His stopover came as insurgents renewed their attacks after a lull during last week's elections and freed a kidnapped German archaeologist.

The vice president, a leading architect of the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in April 2003, visited Iraq for the first time since then. He received a briefing about Thursday's elections from Gen. John P. Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command; Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of U.S. forces in Iraq; and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. Then he met separately with President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.

Talabani called Cheney a "hero of liberating Iraq."

The nine-hour visit had been kept under wraps for security reasons.

Cheney also spoke to U.S. troops and inspected Iraqi forces being trained to take over the fight against insurgents.

During an exchange with the vice president, Marine Cpl. Bradley Warren said: "From our perspective, we don't see much as far as gains" in the war. "I was wondering what it looks like from the big side of the mountain; how Iraq's looking."

"Well, Iraq's looking good," Cheney replied. "We've turned the corner. I think when we look back from 10 years hence, we'll see that the year '05 was in fact a watershed year here in Iraq."

The resurgence of violence yesterday was aimed mostly at Iraqi security forces. At least nine people were reported killed.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, gunmen killed a police officer and his son in their house, according to Iraqi officials. Police officers were also targeted in Baghdad throughout the day. A roadside bomb exploded near a Baghdad university, killing two officers. Later, in the Jamiaa neighborhood, gunmen ambushed a police patrol, injuring 11.

Officials at Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad said they received the bodies of three police officials killed in separate incidents, as well as the remains of a suicide bomber whose explosives had apparently detonated before he reached his target.

Drive-by gunmen killed the chauffeur for a Baghdad prison director in the Habibiya neighborhood, and a bomb exploded in a crowded market near the main Shiite shrine in the Kadhimiya district of the capital, killing one woman and injuring 15.

German officials announced the release of a hostage held in Iraq since late last month.

Susanne Osthoff and her Iraqi driver disappeared Nov. 25 while traveling in northern Iraq. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier offered no details. The status of her driver was not immediately known.

Attacks by the Sunni Arab-led insurgency had diminished sharply Thursday as Iraqis voted, electing a full-term, four-year parliament. Sunnis, who had largely boycotted the election of an interim government in January, turned out in force. About 70 percent of eligible voters came to the polls, according to al-Jaafari.

"The participation levels all across the country have been remarkable," Cheney told reporters traveling with him yesterday. "That's exactly what needs to happen to build a political structure: a self-governing Iraq that's unified various segments of the population and ultimately takes over responsibility for its own security."

The Iraqi election commission said it had received preliminary results in the form of tally sheets from seven provinces representing about 70 percent of the total vote. Official Safwat Rashid said that they included Baghdad, Babil, Karbala, Najaf and Irbil, Anbar and Kirkuk, and that the rest were "on their way."

He added that today "we'll be able to provide you with 80 percent of the results for Baghdad province. The rest will be completed in the coming days." Rashid said the commission had received 345 complaints about the election, more than half claiming violations of campaigning rules. Other complaints were about names missing from voter rolls and some alleged interference with voters by party officials, police or elections workers.

The commission began examining complaints yesterday. "Some of the complaints are minor, and others may be grave enough to cancel the results of a ballot box," Rashid said.

The coalition of Shiite religious parties that leads the interim government is again expected to win the largest share of the votes. Many of the coalition's candidates spent years of exile in Iran, and their close ties to the Shiite theo- cracy there are of deep concern to the Bush administration.

"Our major partner needs to be reassured," Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said after Cheney's visit. "Those who liberated Iraq are worried that their blood and money would be in vain if Iran, for example, would take advantage" of the election to extend its influence. "We are not going to replace one partner, who liberated us, with another partner who has, let's say, interests in Iraq. We will stick with our liberators."

Cheney's unannounced stop in Iraq came at the beginning of a five-day Middle East and South Asia tour aimed at strengthening support for the Bush administration's war against terrorists. The vice president and his wife, Lynne, planned to make stops in Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times. Information from the Associated Press was included in this article.

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