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

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Vice president makes surprise visit to Iraq

Vice President Dick Cheney opened a new U.S. push for political unity in Iraq on an unannounced visit today, just ahead of the fifth anniversary...

The Associated Press

BAGHDAD — Vice President Dick Cheney opened a new U.S. push for political unity in Iraq on an unannounced visit today, just ahead of the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion.

Cheney landed at Baghdad International Airport, then flew by helicopter into the heavily secured Green Zone for talks with Iraqi leaders and U.S. military and diplomatic officials. It was his third vice presidential trip to Iraq, where 160,000 U.S. troops are deployed.

The visit comes 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 U.S. 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 during the same period, according to Iraqi and U.S. authorities.

For security reasons, Cheney officials divulged few details about the vice president's schedule, but said he was expected to make stops throughout the country, speak to troops and spend time with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq. Crocker and Petraeus are to travel to Washington next month to give a status report on the war.

Oman was to be the first stop on Cheney's 10-day trip to the Mideast, but on Sunday night, he left Air Force Two parked on a tarmac in England and boarded a C-17 for the flight to the Iraqi capital.

Cheney is not expected to cross paths with Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who made his eighth trip to Iraq on Sunday, this time holding private talks with U.S. and Iraqi officials about security developments.

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.

On Sunday, five bombings in Baghdad and north of the capital killed 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 said troops shot to death an unarmed Iraqi man whose car had failed to stop as it approached a foot patrol Saturday in Baghdad's Mansour neighborhood.

Information from McClatchy news service

is included in this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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