March 17, 2008 in Nation/World

McCain begins fact-finding trip

Ryan Lenz Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Sen. John McCain prepares to take off in a U.S. Army UH-60 Blackhawk from Sather Air Base in Iraq on Sunday. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

BAGHDAD – Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, arrived in Baghdad on Sunday for a visit with Iraqi and U.S. diplomatic and military officials.

The trip by McCain, who has linked his political future to U.S. military success in the nearly five-year-old war, coincided with the 20th anniversary of a horrific chemical weapons attack in northern Iraq.

McCain met with Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh and planned to meet with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, according to the U.S. Embassy. Details of McCain’s visit were not released for security reasons, the embassy said.

Before leaving the United States, McCain, one of the foremost proponents of the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion, said the trip to the Middle East and Europe was for fact-finding purposes, not a photo opportunity.

But he expressed public worries that militants in Iraq might try to influence the November general election.

“Yes, I worry about it,” he said, responding to a question during a campaign appearance in Pennsylvania. “And I know they pay attention because of the intercepts we have of their communications.”

McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was accompanied by Sens. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., two of his top supporters.

The weeklong trip will take McCain to Israel, Britain and France, and include his first meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He also is expected to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Elsewhere, Kurds in northern Iraq commemorated the anniversary of the chemical weapons attack in Halabja, near the Iranian border, with solemn observances. Saddam Hussein ordered the 1988 attack to crush a Kurdish rebellion in the north, which was seen as aiding Iran near the end of its war with Iraq.

On Sunday, a bomb in a parked car exploded in western Baghdad’s Mansour neighborhood, killing one person and wounding two others. Two civilians and nine others were wounded in Mosul when a suicide bomber detonated his vest, police said. A roadside bomb killed another person in the northwestern city.

Just outside Baqouba, the capital of restive Diyala province, three people were killed in clashes between police and a faction of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, police said. In the city itself, gunmen killed a city hall employee, police said.

Police also found the bullet-riddled bodies of at least 16 people in Baghdad, Muqdadiyah, Mosul and the southern cities of Basra and Kut, where Shiite militia violence has been rising.

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