- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise visit to Baghdad today to meet with top Iraqi leaders and emphasize the need for action by Iraq’s parliament, and said afterward that the message was heard.

“I do believe that there is a greater sense of urgency now than I’d seen previously,” Mr. Cheney said.

Mr. Cheney began his day by meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and was then briefed by Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Mr. Cheney also met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, and other top Iraqi political and military officials, to discuss security and a number of legislative issues that U.S. officials believe will stabilize Iraq if a consensus can be reached by Sunni, Shiite and Kurd factions.

“We talked about the challenges that we are facing in our own political process,” Mr. al-Maliki said. “But we also talked about the achievements of the Iraqi people as a result of the support from the United States as well as other countries in the world community.”

Mr. Cheney warned Iraqi leaders against taking a proposed two-month recess this summer, which would slow work on key legislation at a time when the Bush administration must show progress in Iraq to an impatient American citizenry.

“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 and that we hoped they would approach these issues with all deliberate dispatch, if I can put it in those terms,” Mr. Cheney said. “I think they’re somewhat sympathetic to our concerns.”

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, speaking to reporters earlier in the day on the airplane ride to Iraq, was more blunt.

“The reality is, with the major effort we’re making, the major effort the Iraqi security forces and military are making themselves, for the Iraqi parliament to take a two-month vacation in the middle of summer is impossible to understand,” Mr. Crocker said.

Mr. Cheney, who wore a bulletproof vest while traveling from the airport to the U.S. embassy, said that the Iraqi leaders told him the security situation in Baghdad has “gotten better,” and that violence between Shia and Sunni militias is “down fairly dramatically.”

“Everybody recognizes there still are serious security problems, security threats, no question about it,” Mr. Cheney said. “But the impression I got from talking with them [-] and this includes their military as well as political leadership [-] is that they do believe we are making progress, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

However, a large bomb blast went off in the afternoon while Mr. Cheney was meeting with Iraqi leaders, rattling the U.S. embassy’s windows. Reporters were rushed to a bunker, but Mr. Cheney’s meeting was not halted.

“His business was not disrupted. He was not moved,’ said Lea Anne McBride, Cheney spokeswoman.

Specific issues facing the Iraqi parliament include a law that would distribute oil revenues to the Iraqi population, revision of the constitution, implementation of local elections, and the reauthorization of former Baath party members for work.

“We’ve got to pull together. We’ve got to get this work done. It’s game time,” said a senior Bush administration official.

Mr. Cheney’s staff did not tell reporters on the trip that they were headed to Iraq until the vice president’s plane had taken off from Andrews Air Force base yesterday.

Mr. Cheney’s second trip to Iraq during his time as vice president comes only two months after a similar week-long trip to the Middle East, where he met with government leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On his current trip, after he leaves Iraq Mr. Cheney is scheduled to meet with leaders in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

The vice president’s trip follows a visit to the region last week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who met with her Syrian counterpart at a multilateral conference on Iraq at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik, Egypt. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki also attended the conference, but he and Miss Rice did not meet.

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