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Iraq parliament recess bad idea: US officials

Baghdad/Washington: US officials have severely criticised plans by the Iraqi parliament to take a two-month summer recess while US troops were trying to secure the country enabling the government to seek political reconciliation among warring parties.

US Defence Secretary Bill Gates Wednesday told US Congress that a “variety” of US officials “have made clear to the Iraqis that it would be a very bad idea for the Council of Representatives to take a recess in July and August”.

“I told some of the Iraqis with whom I met that we are buying them time for political reconciliation and that every day we buy them, we buy it with American blood,” Gates said.

“For this group to go out for two months, it would, in my opinion, be unacceptable,” he said.

Iraqi officials got the same message from US Vice President Dick Cheney, who arrived in Baghdad earlier Wednesday for an unannounced visit and meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Cheney told reporters after the meeting that he raised concerns about the recess before it had resolved key issues of reconciliation and oil revenue distribution.

“I did make it clear that we believe it’s very important to move on the issues before us in a timely fashion and that any undue delay would be difficult to explain,” Cheney said.

Cheney said he talked with al-Maliki about “a wide range of issues”, including securing Baghdad and operations against terrorists as well as political and economic matters. Al-Maliki characterised the meeting as “positive and serious”.

The meeting with Cheney laid the “foundation for practical steps supporting (the Iraqi) efforts on both the security and political fronts,” al-Maliki said.

Meanwhile the Sadr movement led by Shia militia leader and cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said Wednesday that large demonstrations would be staged by the movement in three Shia holy cities to protest Cheney’s visit, a source from al-Sadr’s office in Najaf told the independent Voices of Iraq news agency.

Cheney arrived in Iraqi amid a surge of more than 20,000 US troops announced by Bush in January. The US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, speaking at a press conference with Cheney, said he expected the deployment to be completed by mid-June and that it would take several months thereafter “for us to see the impact of those forces”.

Cheney said he believes the security situation in Iraq is improving. “We are making progress, but we’ve got a long way to go,” he said.