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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008, 16:29 GMT

Cheney vows to finish job in Iraq

US Vice-President Dick Cheney at Balad air base, Iraq - 18/03/2008
Mr Cheney does not want to send another generation of troops to Iraq

The US will complete its mission in Iraq to ensure the country does not become a base for attacks on Americans, Vice-President Dick Cheney has said.

Mr Cheney is on a visit to Iraq and the Middle East coinciding with the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, launched on 20 March, 2003.

His visit comes as a major conference to promote national reconciliation has been thrown into disarray.

The main Sunni Arab bloc and a major Shia group are boycotting the meeting.

Speaking to US troops at Balad air base north of Baghdad, Mr Cheney said the US had "no intention of abandoning our friends or allowing this country of 170,000 sq km to become a staging ground for further attacks against Americans".

Mr Cheney then flew to Irbil, capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, where he pressed political leaders to pass long-delayed legislation on sharing Iraq's oil revenues.

The law is stalled over disputes over whether the central government or regional authorities should control Iraq's vast oil wealth.

The US sees the legislation as key to reconciling Iraq's rival sectarian and ethnic factions.

Continued distrust

A spokesman for the largest Sunni Arab group in Iraq's parliament, the Accordance Front, said the group would not participate in the reconciliation conference in the capital, Baghdad, until previous grievances have been answered.

Their demands include the release of supporters who have been detained without charge and greater say in security decision-making.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki (left) in Baghdad - 18/03/2008
Key groups have boycotted PM Maliki's reconciliation conference
Supporters of radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr walked out of the conference shortly after it began, calling such meetings "government propaganda".

The BBC's Adam Brookes in Baghdad says the apparent failure of the conference reflects continued distrust between Iraq's most powerful factions.

As about 700 people attended the conference under tight security in a Baghdad hotel, a roadside bomb in the north of the city killed three people, including two policemen.

Another bomb killed three people in the northern city of Mosul, and in Beiji, south of Mosul, gunmen killed two members of a local Sunni security group.

On Monday, 52 people were killed in a bombing in a Shia shrine in Karbala.

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