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Biden Meets Rivals for Post of Next Iraqi Prime Minister


U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has held talks with rival politicians in Baghdad in an attempt to break the deadlock over a new Iraqi government following inconclusive March elections.

Biden met separately Sunday with Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his main challenger for the post, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, also a Shi'ite.

Mr. Allawi's Sunni-backed Iraqiya alliance won 91 seats in Parliament in the March elections, compared to 89 for Mr. Maliki's Shi'ite-dominated State of Law alliance. Both groups were far short of the 163-seat majority needed to govern and have been trying to form ruling coalitions.

Insurgents have intensified attacks across Iraq in recent weeks in an apparent attempt to exploit the political stalemate. In violence Sunday, a female suicide bomber struck a provincial government complex in the western province of Anbar, killing four people and wounding 23.

Iraqi officials say the blast happened in a reception area of the complex in the city of Ramadi, which was once the center of al-Qaida activity and insurgent violence in Iraq.

Elsewhere, Iraqi police opened fire on a suspected suicide bomber in northern Iraq. Officials say several policemen were wounded in the incident.

Ahead of Sunday's talks, Vice President Biden told U.S. soldiers at a base near Baghdad that U.S. plans to withdraw troops from Iraq remain on track. He said the U.S. combat mission will end on August 31, with troop levels reduced to 50,000 from 140,000 when the Obama administration took office.

He said that even as U.S. troops withdraw, Washington will "ramp up" its engagement with the Iraqi people and government in various fields to build what he called a "long and strong" partnership with Iraq.

Biden also attended a naturalization ceremony at the base in which a group of U.S. military personnel took the U.S. oath of allegiance. The ceremony was timed to coincide with the July 4 anniversary of U.S. independence.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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