Amid tears and wails, mourners in the southern city of Najaf on Tuesday began burying victims from a suicide bombing that killed nearly 50 worshipers and injured dozens of others just before evening prayers Monday in nearby Karbala.
In Baghdad , a long-anticipated Iraqi national reconciliation conference began with great fanfare, then quickly dissolved into the usual sectarian and political stalemates that have marred several similar gatherings in recent years.
But Vice President Dick Cheney gave an upbeat view of conditions in Iraq as he concluded his unannounced trip to mark the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion. Cheney also defended the toppling of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as part of the struggle against terrorism following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
This month, an exhaustive Pentagon-sponsored review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents captured during the 2003 US invasion found no evidence that Saddam's regime had any operational links with the al Qaida terrorist network.
But Cheney, who spent the night at a sprawling US base in the northern town of Balad, told soldiers they were defending future generations of Americans from a global terror threat.
"This long-term struggle became urgent on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 . That day we clearly saw that dangers can gather far from our own shores and find us right there at home," said Cheney, who was accompanied by his wife, Lynne, and their daughter, Elizabeth.
"So the United States made a decision: to hunt down the evil of terrorism and kill it where it grows, to hold the supporters of terror to account and to confront regimes that harbor terrorists and threaten the peace," Cheney said. "Understanding all the dangers of this new era, we have no intention of abandoning our friends or allowing this country of 170,000 square miles to become a staging area for further attacks against Americans."
Retaining his tough stance against Iran, Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday that Tehran may have restarted the nuclear weaponization program that a U.S. intelligence report said was halted in 2003.