Lebanese Prime Minister visits Iraq; Rice in Baghdad to help resolve impasse over security agreement; 25 people killed in suicide attack in Abu Ghraib
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  • Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora met his Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki in the first visit to Baghdad by a Lebanese leader since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Reports noted that both sides discussed trade and regional ties. Analysts believe the visit of the Lebanese leader signified a US push encouraging moderate Arab states, which are mainly Sunni, to build links with Iraq to counter the influence of Shia Iran. Mr. Siniora, a Lebanese Sunni politician, heads a coalition government which includes the powerful Shia group, Hezbollah1.

    US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit to try to iron out the last remaining differences on the security agreement to govern the presence of American troops. US and Iraqi officials confirmed that negotiators from the two countries had agreed to a draft of the agreement which would provide the legal basis for American troops to remain in Iraq beyond 2008. Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari however declined to confirm whether the agreement gave timelines for the withdrawal of troops or immunity for American servicemen2. While Mohammed al-Haj Hammoud, the top Iraqi official negotiating the deal stated that all US combat troops would leave Iraq by 2011, the White House on its part maintained that details of the draft agreement were still being discussed. The draft deal would still need to be approved by the Iraqi Presidential Council and by the parliament3.

    In other developments, a suicide bomber struck a dinner party in Abu Ghraib killing 25 people and wounding nearly 30. The bombing was one of the largest in and around Baghdad in recent months, which saw reduced attacks on Iraqi civilians and security forces4.