ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates - Vice President Cheney told U.S. troops in Iraq yesterday that he knew they were suffering hardships from extended deployments but the longer stays were "vital to the mission."
His words were greeted with restrained applause at a rally on a U.S. military base near Saddam Hussein's former hometown of Tikrit. On his second day in Iraq, Cheney also held classified meetings with U.S. military leaders and emerged repeating words of the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, that "we can expect more violence" ahead.
Cheney's assessment was a stark contrast to the one he made two years ago when he declared in an interview on CNN that the insurgency was in its "last throes."
Cheney said yesterday that terrorists had made Iraq the place they want to fight. "We will stay on the offensive," he said. "We will not sit back and wait to be hit again."
In Baghdad yesterday, politicians loyal to a radical Shiite cleric pressed for legislation demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops and a freeze on the number of foreign forces already in the country.
The proposed Iraqi legislation, drafted by the parliamentary bloc loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, was signed by 144 members of the 275-member house, according to parliamentary officials.
The Sadrist bloc has pushed similar bills before, but this would be the first time it persuaded a majority of lawmakers to sign on.
The measure has not yet been introduced in parliament and was unlikely to be passed in its current form. But the signatures reflected growing disenchantment among the lawmakers over U.S. involvement in Iraq and the government's failure to curb the violence in the country.
Despite Sadr's bill, Shiite parties still represented in the cabinet are not keen to see U.S. troops leave until Iraqi forces are ready to take over security. Maliki relies heavily on U.S. support to hold his administration together.
From Iraq, Cheney flew to this Persian Gulf nation, the second stop on a trip that also will include visits to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. The purpose of his trip is to persuade Arab allies in the region to do more to help stabilize Iraq and promote ethnic reconciliation there.
Tomorrow, Cheney is to visit the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis in the gulf not far from here.
Several thousand soldiers, in camouflage uniforms and with rifles on their shoulders, greeted the vice president at a mess hall at Camp Speicher, the desert post near Tikrit.
Spec. Eric Emo, 23, of Sedalia, Mo., whose Army unit is based in Fort Riley, Kan., said most of his fellow soldiers were unhappy about the deployment extensions, from the current 12 months to 15 months, but understood the need for it.
In terms of hostile activity, he said, "conditions around here have gotten a lot worse." He said there had been a particularly sharp increase in the number of roadside bombs.
When he addressed the troops, Cheney acknowledged the issue of lengthened tours.
"Many of you have had your deployments extended, and that puts an unexpected hardship on you and your families," he said. "I want you to know the extension is vital to the mission. The Army and the country appreciate the extra burden that you carry."
Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, commander of coalition forces in northern Iraq, said morale generally remained good "in terms of staying focused on the mission."
"They understand perfectly the reason the mission has been extended," Mixon told reporters.
He said the blanket three-month extensions helped take the guesswork out of the policy. "They want to know the exact day they're going back," he said. "That gives them something to focus on."
A series of evening explosions rocked Baghdad, killing at least two people. A total of 35 people were killed or found dead nationwide yesterday.
The Baghdad attacks began
about 9:10 p.m. when a parked
motorcycle exploded near a soda shop, killing two people and wounding four, police said.
About 20 minutes later, a suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. convoy in the mainly Shiite neighborhood of Karradah, police said. No deaths were reported.
The military announced three more U.S. troop deaths. Two soldiers were killed by gunfire yesterday - one in Baghdad and the other in Diwaniyah - and a Marine died Wednesday in combat in Sunni-dominated Anbar province.
U.S.-led forces conducted a raid
in the Mahdi Army stronghold
of Sadr City yesterday, killing three and detaining four as they tried to break up a cell accused of smuggling weapons from Iran,
the military said.
An al-Qaeda front group, the Islamic State of Iraq, posted a video showing the execution of nine Iraqi security officers blindfolded with their hands bound behind them and shot in the back of the head.