Cheney pushes Iraq pols

to get their act together

BAGHDAD - Vice President Dick Cheney pressed Iraq's leaders to do more to reduce violence and achieve political reconciliation yesterday in a visit punctuated by an explosion that shook windows at the U.S. Embassy where Cheney was visiting.

Cheney acknowledged the country still has serious security problems. Iraqi leaders "believe we are making progress, but we've got a long way to go," he said.

The vice president urged that Iraq's parliament abandon plans for a two-month summer vacation while U.S. forces are fighting. With important issues pending, including how to share Iraq's oil wealth, "any undue delay would be difficult to explain," Cheney said.

Meanwhile, a suicide truck-bomber devastated the security headquarters of one of Iraq's most peaceful cities yesterday, killing at least 15 people, wounding more than 100.

It was the first major attack in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish self-governing region, in more than three years. The victims were among 72 people killed or found dead nationwide.

Cheney's visit prompted noisy protests by followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, with hundreds taking to the streets in a Shiite area of Baghdad and the Shiite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.

The U.S. military also announced yesterday that an American soldier was killed and four others were wounded the day before in a shooting attack in the volatile province of Diyala, northeast of Baghdad.

At least 32 bullet-riddled bodies were found in Iraq yesterday, including 21 in Baghdad, most on the predominantly Sunni western side of the Tigris River. They were believed victims of sectarian death squads.

In Washington, the White House threatened to veto a proposed House bill that would pay for the war only through July - a limit Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned would be disastrous.

Pope's comments on abortion

spark debate on church's role

SAO PAULO, Brazil - Pope Benedict XVI kicked off a historic five-day visit to Brazil yesterday by sending a tough anti-abortion message that sparked a debate over the Roman Catholic Church's efforts to influence politicians.

In answer to a question about Mexico City's recent legalization of abortion, Benedict indicated that he would support Mexican bishops if they were to decide to excommunicate lawmakers who voted for the law.

"It is part of the code," Benedict said, according to reporters aboard the plane. "It is based simply on the principle that the killing of an innocent human child is incompatible with going in communion with the body of Christ."

The seeming support for excommunicating Catholic politicians who buck the church on abortion overshadowed Benedict's arrival in Sao Paulo on his first trip outside Europe since he became pope in 2005.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who's been under fire from Catholic officials recently for his abortion-rights support, didn't comment on the pope's remarks.

2,700-year-old cloth found

inside Greek copper burial urn

ATHENS - Archaeologists in Greece have discovered a rare 2,700-year-old piece of fabric inside a copper urn from a burial they speculated imitated the elaborate cremation of soldiers described in Homer's "Iliad."

The yellowed, brittle material was found in the urn during excavation in the southern town of Argos, a Culture Ministry announcement said yesterday.

"This is an extremely rare find, as fabric is an organic material which decomposes very easily," said archaeologist Alkistis Papadimitriou, who headed the dig. She said only a handful of such artifacts have been found in Greece.

The cylindrical urn also contained dried pomegranates - offerings linked with the ancient gods of the underworld - along with ashes and charred human bones from an early 7th century B.C. cremation.

Papadimitriou said the material was preserved for nearly 3,000 years by the corroding copper urn. "Copper oxides killed the microbes which normally destroy fabric," she said.

Britons ready to raise a pint

in toast to inches, feet, pounds

LONDON - The European Union yesterday abandoned its plan to force Britain to phase out the use of feet, inches, pounds, ounces and gallons.

The old imperial measures will be allowed to coexist with the EU's metric system of meters, grams and liters, rather than be dropped by 2009, the EU said.

Some British politicians celebrated the decision and the Metric Martyrs lobbying group said it felt vindicated for its struggle against the plan that began when a trader was convicted in 2001 for refusing to sell bananas by the kilogram.

"It has been 'people power' that has forced the European Commission and the government to abandon the enforced metrication program," Metric Martyrs leader Neil Herron said in a statement. "We have saved the pint, the mile, the yard, the foot as well as pounds and ounces."

Britain, like every nation but the United States and two smaller countries, officially uses the metric system. But imperial measures still are put on many road signs, displayed alongside their metric counterparts in stores and used to portion out beer in pubs. *

- Daily News wire services