Thu, Jul 23, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Violence rocks Iraq ahead of Maliki-Obama meeting

AP AND AFP , BAGHDAD AND WASHINGTON

Gunmen in four cars yesterday opened fire on a convoy of buses carrying Iranian pilgrims through Iraq, killing five of them, Iraqi police said as the war-wracked country’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki headed to the White House for talks with US President Barack Obama.

Thirty-five people were wounded in the attack, which took place near the village of Kebasi north of the capital. The convoy was part of the movement of millions pilgrims — many of them from Iran — visiting the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala throughout the year.

At least 18 people died in bomb blasts around Iraq on Tuesday.

Children, shoppers and men looking for a day’s work were among the dead in attacks in Baghdad, Ramadi and Baqubah, cities that saw some of the most intense fighting of Iraq’s long war.

There was no indication that insurgents timed the attacks to coincide with the US meeting, though they have in the past ­carried out operations around election days and other politically significant dates.

Maliki was to have his first meeting with Obama yesterday since US troops withdrew from Iraqi cities at the end of last month, a milestone in Iraq’s rehabilitation after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Maliki arrived in Washington having overseen a considerable transformation in his country since he took office three years ago, at a time of sprawling interfaith violence.

The two leaders, who met in Baghdad in April, “will have frank conversations and we will have discussions on the need to keep the political process going [to avoid] any back-sliding or deterioration,” a senior US official said on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The US “will not dictate the solutions to the Iraqi government,” the official said, but will offer to support Baghdad’s “efforts to address political issues and build national unity.”

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