CBNNews.com -- Sen. John McCain assured Iraq's prime minister during talks Monday in Baghdad of the importance of the United States' commitment to the fledgling Middle Eastern democracy.
Explosions also struck Iraq's capital city during visits by the Republican presidential nominee and Vice President Dick Cheney. No details were available on the cause of the explosions.
McCain met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shortly before the Iraqi leader began separate talks with Cheney. The Arizona senator arrived in Iraq Sunday. It was his eighth trip to Iraq.
Al-Maliki said he and the vice president discussed ongoing negotiations over a long-term security agreement between the two countries that would replace the U.N. mandate for foreign troops set to expire at the end of the year.
"This visit is very important. It is about the nature of the relations between the two countries, the future of those relations and the agreement in this respect," the prime minister told reporters. "We also discussed the security in Iraq, the development of the economy and reconstruction and terrorism."
Al-Qaeda's Last Urban Stronghold
McCain also said it was important to maintain the U.S. commitment in Iraq and warned that a U.S.-Iraqi military operation to clear al-Qaeda from its last urban stronghold of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, will be "very difficult and very important."
He told reporters that he also discussed with the Shiite leader the need for progress on political reforms, including laws on holding provincial elections and the equitable distribution of Iraq's oil riches.
McCain said he had reviewed the security situation in Baghdad with Iraqi officials.
He also met with Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh on Sunday and planned to meet with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, the U.S. Embassy said.
The Arizona senator also made a trip to visit the Anbar province city of Haditha on Sunday. He bought and drank soft drinks from street vendors. He also answered questions about the U.S. presidential campaign and spoke of the recent security gains ahead of the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of the country.
Asked by one of the vendors if he would return to Iraq, McCain responded, "We'll come back if I win."
Before returning to the U.S., McCain said the tour to the Middle East and Europe was for fact-finding purposes, not a campaign photo opportunity.
Vice President in Iraq
It was Cheney's third vice presidential trip to Iraq where 160,000 American troops are currently deployed. The U.S. death toll from the Iraq War is nearing 4,000, according to a count by The Associated Press.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said it could not confirm reports of a rocket attack on the Green Zone after Cheney's arrival.
Three factors when added together may have caused a reduction in violence in Iraq's capital city; an influx of some 30,000 additional U.S. soldiers, a Sunni revolt against al-Qaeda and a cease-fire by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military has said attacks have fallen by about 60 percent since last February.
Source: The Associated Press