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Cheney makes unannounced visit to Iraq

U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney makes unannounced visit to Iraq Wednesday in an attempt to encourage reconciliation among rival Iraqi factions.

U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney sought to encourage reconciliation among rival Iraqi factions on Wednesday in an unannounced visit to Baghdad, emphasizing that the current U.S. military buildup alone is not enough to end the conflict.

"There's a lot going on. This is a very important time. There's a lot to talk about," Cheney said as he met with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander inthe country,and new U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Petraeus said recently that conditions in Iraq may get harder before they get easier and will require "an enormous commitment" over time by the United States.

Cheney made Iraq the first stop on a weeklong tour of the Middle East that will also include stops in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. The stop had not been announced publicly.

In what was to be a full daylong meeting, Cheney was to meet with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as well as with Iraq's Kurdish president, Jalal Talibana, its Sunni and Shia vice-presidents, and other government leaders.

Aides said the vice-president hoped to encourage reconciliation among rival factions and emphasize that ending the conflict in Iraq cannot done by military means alone.

Aides said Cheney's mission was both to get a sense of the situation on the ground in Iraq and to deliver a message that more work is needed on the political front to overcome divisions and delays.

It follows a secure video conference earlier this week between al-Maliki and U.S. President George W. Bush about the need to move forward on legislation to help repair the rift between majority-party Shia Arabs and minority Sunni Arabs.

Sunni legislators have been threatening to pull out of the government.

Cheney also was likely to renew a U.S. request that the Iraqi parliament not take a scheduled two-month break during these troubling times, according to Cocker.

"For the Iraqi parliament to take a two-month vacation in the middle of summer is impossible to understand," said Crocker, who travelled with Cheney from Washington. He has only been on the job since March.

Cheney's message with Iraqi leaders, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters, was to be: "We've all got challenges together. We've got to pull together. We've got to get this work done. It's game time."

The official spoke on condition of anonymity since Cheney had yet to meet with the Iraqi leaders.

In addition to meeting separately and jointly with Iraq's top leaders, the vice-president also was to meet with leaders of other influential factions and political organizations.

Cheney was to have lunch with al-Maliki and Iraqi officials and then have dinner with them at the U.S. Embassy.

Cheney's public schedule called for him to stop first at the United Arab Emirates, but he came first to Iraq instead. He was later to visit the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

It is his second visit to Iraq as vice-president. The first was in December 2005.

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