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VP Cheney drops into Baghdad, notices considerable progress

March 17, 2008 | 10:02 pm

It must be kinda crowded in Baghdad's Green Zone these days, what with lines of senators like John McCain and, unexpectedly today, Vice President Dick Cheney dropping in for a quick visit and, of course, a media availability.

At a news conference today, Cheney said: “I come away with a sense that there's been significant progress in the 10 months since I was last here, that we've made progress not only on the security front, but that they've made progress in governing, as well."

Marking the fifth anniversary of the U.S. led invasion of Iraq, President Bush will deliver a "war on terror" speech Wednesday at the Pentagon.

That, of course, was one of the targets of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in a war with terrorism that the Bush administration maintains is playing out in Iraq today and almost certainly will play a key role in the upcoming general election campaign.

The vice president visited with military and embassy leaders in Baghdad, where he also met with leaders of the new Iraqi government -- and the traveling press.

"It's clear that there's still a number of major issues that need to be addressed that they are focused on as a government," Cheney said. "You can't help when you come here, after you've been here a few times over the years, and watched these events unfold, and focus on the fact this is the -- this week marks the fifth anniversary since we launched into Iraq in March of '03 – all that has transpired, not only in the last, what, 14 or 15 months since the surge decision by the president and Gen. Petraeus' arrival with his counterinsurgency strategy.

"It's been a remarkable turnaround in the overall security situation and the level of violence, both in terms of military and civilian casualties," Cheney said.

With barely 10 months left in office, does the Bush administration have a weaker hand in Baghdad than it did when Cheney last visited in May? "I don’t feel any loss of influence," Cheney responded. "if anything, the successes that we've demonstrated here have given us greater credibility than would have been the case if we hadn't had the surge and the progress of the last 12, 15 months."

--Mark Silva

Mark Silva writes for the Swamp of the Chicago Tribune's Washington Bureau.

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