BAGHDAD -- Bombs claimed the lives of at least 52 Iraqis and two U.S. soldiers yesterday, a day in which Vice President Dick Cheney and Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain made visits to Iraq to focus on American successes as the war enters its sixth year.
Initial reports said a female suicide bomber killed 43 people and wounded 74 in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Karbala. Karbala province media director Abdel Ameer Hamoun said the woman detonated the explosives in the early evening on a street packed with shoppers not far from the Imam Hussein tomb, one of the holiest places in Shiite Islam.
Later, Karbala's police chief, Brig. Gen. Raed Shakir Jawdat, said the explosion might have been caused by an improvised explosive device placed on the street.
The American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. In Baghdad, a car bomb in the Karada commercial district, which has been targeted by a series of bombings in the past two weeks, killed three people and wounded eight. Mortar shells landed in the Shiite neighborhood of Baladiyat in eastern Baghdad, claiming the lives of six children, police said.
The bloody Karbala attack occurred after McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, and Cheney, made near-identical claims about the success of the U.S. troop buildup last year that has been credited with helping cool sectarian warfare across Iraq that erupted in the years after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
"We are succeeding. And we can succeed, and American casualties overall are way down," McCain told CNN in an interview during his one-day visit.
McCain criticized the position of Democratic presidential contenders who favor withdrawing more U.S. troops from Iraq.
"I just think what that means is al-Qaida wins. They tell the world that. And we fight here again and around the Middle East," McCain told the cable channel ahead of his departure for Israel and Europe.
Cheney, who also arrived on an unannounced visit yesterday, argued strongly against a hasty reduction of troops after the last of five additional combat brigades sent to Iraq in 2007 leave the country in July.
"It would be a mistake now to be so eager to draw down the force that we risk putting the outcome in jeopardy," Cheney said.
Cheney, one of the war's chief architects, defended his legacy after meeting with Iraqi leaders.
"If you look back on those five years, it has been a difficult, challenging but nonetheless successful endeavor," he said.
Cheney met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, among others, and lauded Iraqi officials for advances on controversial legislation and on improved security. Al-Maliki said the pair discussed a long-term security agreement between the United States and Iraq that would govern American troops in the country after a United Nations mandate expires at the end of the year.
Cheney was headed next to Oman, and his trip will include stops in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel and the West Bank. The visits came ahead of next month's report to Congress by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and by Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq. The pair last reported to Congress in September, before the effect of an added 28,500 U.S. troops was fully felt.
In the United States, presidential contender Sen. Hillary Clinton blasted the war yesterday, saying it ultimately could cost America trillions of dollars. Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton's opponent for the Democratic nomination, also has called for withdrawing troops from Iraq and has criticized Clinton for initially backing the decision to go to war.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis and nearly 4,000 American troops have died since the war began five years ago this week.
In Karbala yesterday, the bloody blast occurred in an area called Mukhaim, believed to be where the revered Shiite figure Imam Hussein camped before his death in battle in 680. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of a Sunni insurgent group.
Ned Parker and Saad Fakhrildeen write for the Los Angeles Times.