BAGHDAD -- A truck bomb exploded in midtown Irbil in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan yesterday, killing 19 people, injuring 70 and illustrating the worsening violence in areas of Iraq previously considered to be relatively safe.
The violence came on the day that Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise trip to Iraq. The visit was part of the Bush administration's campaign to keep pressure on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to forge ahead with legislation to mend sectarian rifts.
Cheney met with al-Maliki and other senior government officials, as well as with the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. His message to the Iraqi leaders, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters, is: "We've all got challenges together. We've got to pull together. We've got to get this work done. It's game time."
But Iraq's parliament met without taking up any of the so-called benchmark laws that the United States is counting on it to pass, such as an oil law that is designed to boost production and share oil profits among Iraq's different regions.
Militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for Iraqis to protest the visit, and about 1,000 demonstrated in the holy city of Kadhimiya, northwest of Baghdad.
"Kick out the leaders of evil," one of their signs read. Al-Sadr's Mahdi army oversaw the protest and limited participation for security concerns.
The bombing in Irbil, 300 miles north of Baghdad, targeted the Interior Ministry, which oversees Iraqi police, and could be another sign of insurgents taking their operations into new areas after being targeted by the security plan in the Baghdad, Al Anbar and Diyala provinces. Additionally, the conflict between Kurdistan and Sunni insurgents has sharpened from the deployment of several thousand Kurdish Peshmerga troops in Baghdad as part of the security plan.
In the capital city, at least four people were killed in mortar, gunshot and roadside bomb attacks. They included one laborer working on construction of a barrier designed to quell violence in the Sunni stronghold of Adhamiya, in northeastern Baghdad.
He was killed when gunmen opened fire on workers erecting what the U.S. and Iraqi military have portrayed as a temporary security barrier that will prevent Adhamiya's Sunni population from clashing with Shiites in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Last week, a senior U.S. Army officer was shot and injured as he surveyed progress on the barrier. Local residents have denounced the structure as inhumane and say it will cage them into their neighborhood.
Also yesterday, a car bomb exploded a few hundred feet from an Iraqi army checkpoint on a busy street in Baghdad, killing one person and damaging nearby shops and cars.
Two people were killed in Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad, when a bomb exploded near a shop. Two more Iraqis died when mortars crashed into a neighborhood in Haswa, 30 miles south of Baghdad.
In the city of Samarra, local residents were chafing after a week under curfew, which was imposed after leaflets signed by the al-Qaida-linked group, the Islamic State of Iraq, were distributed warning of attacks on police and the army. Last Sunday, 12 police officers in Samarra, 12 miles north of Baghdad, died when a suicide bomber rammed his car into a police station.
Residents say the curfew and road closures, preventing traffic in and out of the city, have led to shortages of supplies, including fuel to keep home generators powered.
Garrett Therolf writes for the Los Angeles Times.