BAGHDAD — Republican presidential candidate John McCain made his eighth trip to Iraq on Sunday, holding private talks with U.S. and Iraqi officials about security developments at the end of a bloody week marked by a spike in U.S. troop deaths and a new wave of suicide bombings.
A dozen American soldiers have been killed since March 10, edging the total U.S. death toll closer to 4,000, while suicide bombings and other violence left at least 127 Iraqis dead and nearly 400 wounded throughout the country during the same period, according to Iraqi and U.S. authorities.
The past week's spasm of violence underscores the fragility of modest gains from the 30,000-troop increase known as "the surge," which McCain has backed since it began a year ago.
McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was accompanied by two other committee members: Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. They will also stop in Israel, Britain and France.
The Baghdad visit was unannounced for security reasons.
The senators were due to meet with U.S. military commanders and Iraqi leaders, possibly including Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Many Kurds from the northern town of Halabja were furious with Maliki for failing to show up at memorial services marking the 20th anniversary of a chemical bombardment that killed an estimated 5,000 Kurds and caused severe ailments that persist for many of the attack's survivors.
The Iraqi government has pledged $6-million to address the needs of Halabja, a promise many Kurds called long overdue. An advocacy group said about 200 people who were exposed to poison gas remain seriously ill and cannot get medication from local hospitals.