US vice president in Iraq on fifth anniversary of war


Baghdad : US Vice President Dick Cheney, visiting Iraq on the fifth anniversary of the war, pressed its leaders Monday to push through key legislations while praising security gains achieved partly through a US troop surge.

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After an hour-long meeting with Cheney, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said they discussed the ongoing negotiations over the status of forces agreement, which would lay down the legal basis for US military presence in Iraq after the end of a UN mandate this year.

The agreement would also spell out the obligations of US troops in Iraq.

Cheney, who last met al-Maliki in May, praised significant security improvements, which the US military attributes to deployment of an extra 30,000 troops since last summer.

The vice-president is a staunch supporter of troop build-up.

Attacks have declined by 60 per centsince last June when the US military adopted a new counterinsurgency strategy, including moving troops from large bases to smaller combat outposts.

Cheney has also discussed stalled legislations, mainly the oil and gas draft law and provincial election law, Iraqi cabinet spokesman, Ali al-Dabagh, said in an interview on al-Arabiya television.

The US is pressed for a speedy passage of those laws for political considerations ahead of the presidential election in November, al-Dabagh said.

“The main message of Cheney’s visit is that success in Iraq is very important for the Republicans,” al-Dabagh added.

Cheney made Baghdad his first leg of a 10-day regional tour instead of Oman after a sudden change in the schedule.

During the regional tour, which will also include Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank and Turkey, he will seek to enlist Arab support for the US policy in Iraq.

He was expected to ask the Saudis to open their embassy in Iraq.

Cheney arrived a day after Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, held talks in Baghdad as part of a Senate Armed Services Committee fact-finding mission.

McCain met Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki Monday morning. Later McCain told US military officials that the US should abide by its commitments to Iraq’s security.