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Cheney Makes Surprise Trip to Iraq

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

Vice President Dick Cheney is in Baghdad today on an unannounced visit. But the violence continues unimpeded, striking even areas of Iraq thought safe.

NPR's JJ Sutherland reports from Baghdad.

JJ SUTHERLAND: The vice president's visit, as is standard practice here, wasn't made public until he was already on the ground. He's here to pressure the Iraqi government to set aside factional squabbling and move ahead on resolving issues that sharply divide the country and fuel the ongoing sectarian conflict.

At the top of the list is how to divide the country's oil wealth. For months, a committee has been negotiating on how to do that. The sharpest division is how much power the different oil-producing regions will have. The Kurds have already signed some contracts for oil exploration in the north, and that move has angered both Shiites and Sunnis.

Another issue that remains unresolved is how to engage disenfranchised Sunni Iraqis in the political process. One stumbling block is the strict deBaathification laws put into place after the fall of Saddam. Thousands of Sunnis were forced out of their jobs and have been unemployed and unemployable ever since.

Cheney is also expected to ask the Iraqi parliament not to take a summer vacation this year. They had planned on taking July and August off, a move that angered the Bush administration and Congress.

But the violence continues unabated. Kurdistan was the site of a massive bombing today. A suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with hundreds of pounds of explosives, covered with detergent, into the center of the city of Arbil. There, he detonated the bomb in front of the Kurdish Interior Ministry. At least 19 people were killed and scores more were wounded in the blast, including children on their way to school. Some of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition.

Kurdistan has been something of a safe haven from the violence in much of the rest of the country. Bombings are rare and thousands of people have fled there in an attempt to find a place unvisited by the carnage.

JJ Sutherland, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Rebecca Roberts
Award-winning public radio reporter and host Rebecca Roberts is currently a substitute host for NPR News programs including Morning Edition, Talk of the Nation, and Weekend Edition Sunday. Roberts returned to her hometown of Washington, DC, in 2006 to host WETA-FM's The Intersection, a news talk show which had her leading discussions on social, political, economic and cultural trends affecting the Greater Washington area. (The Intersection ended when WETA returned to a classical music format in early 2007.) Before returning to Washington, Roberts hosted Your Call on KALW-FM in San Francisco, a local call-in show covering politics and culture.
JJ Sutherland
JJ Sutherland covers the Pentagon for NPR. Since 2004 he has regularly spent time in Iraq as part of NPR's award-winning team of reporters and producers who have dedicated themselves to covering the conflict.