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Originally published Monday, March 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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McCain makes low-key visit to discuss Iraqi security

Republican presidential candidate John McCain made his eighth trip to Iraq on Sunday, this time holding private talks with U.S. and Iraqi officials about...

McClatchy Newspapers

BAGHDAD — Republican presidential candidate John McCain made his eighth trip to Iraq on Sunday, this time holding private talks with U.S. and Iraqi officials about security developments at the end of a bloody week marked by a spike in U.S. troop deaths and a new wave of suicide bombings.

A dozen American soldiers have been killed since March 10, edging the total U.S. death toll closer to 4,000, while suicide bombings and other violence left at least 127 Iraqis dead and nearly 400 wounded throughout the country during the same period, according to Iraqi and U.S. authorities.

The past week's spasm of violence underscored the fragility of gains from the 30,000-troop increase, which McCain has backed since it began a year ago. The number of attacks in Iraq had dropped by more than half since June, but those figures have begun creeping up since the beginning of the year.

On Sunday, five bombings in Baghdad and north of the capital killed a total of two Iraqis and wounded at least 16. Clashes in the Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, killed five insurgents and three policemen, local authorities said. Five unidentified corpses were discovered in Baghdad.

Also, the U.S. military announced that troops shot to death an unarmed Iraqi man whose car had failed to stop as it approached a foot patrol Saturday in the capital's Mansour neighborhood.

McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was accompanied by two other committee members: Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The Baghdad visit was unannounced for security reasons and McCain made no public statements Sunday. The senators were due to meet with U.S. military commanders and Iraqi leaders, possibly including beleaguered Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Many Kurds from the northern town of Halabja were furious with al-Maliki for failing to show up at memorial services marking the 20th anniversary of the chemical bombardment that killed an estimated 5,000 Kurds and caused severe ailments that persist for many of the attack's survivors.

Shops were closed Sunday, police fanned out throughout Halabja and dozens of Kurds gathered in a town square ahead of al-Maliki's expected arrival. About midday, the mourners realized Maliki was a no-show and their anticipation turned to outrage.

The Iraqi government has pledged $6 million to address the needs of Halabja — a promise many Kurds called long overdue.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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