U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has told Iraqi leaders in Baghdad that the two countries are embarking on a "new path" as the United States prepares to complete a troop pullout by the end of December.
Biden was speaking Wednesday in a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The vice president said the United States is keeping its promise under a 2008 agreement with Iraq to withdraw U.S. forces before an end-of-2011 deadline. The pullout will end a military presence that began with the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein.
The U.S. military has about 13,000 troops remaining in Iraq. Biden told Maliki that the completion of that pullout is in the best interests of the United States and Iraq and will mark a new phase in a relationship between "two sovereign nations."
The vice president also said the U.S. and Iraqi governments will build the relationship by cooperating on security issues such as training, intelligence and counter-terrorism. U.S.-Iraqi negotiations on allowing some U.S. trainers to remain in Iraq beyond the deadline failed earlier this year because of a dispute about whether such trainers would have immunity from Iraqi law.
The visit is Biden's eighth to Iraq since taking office in 2009. He also was due to attend a ceremony commemorating the sacrifices of U.S. and Iraqi troops in the eight-year-long conflict. Violence in Iraq has declined from the peak of sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007, but insurgent attacks remain common.
In the latest violence, Iraqi officials say gunmen killed five people in a raid on a home in the central city of Samarra late Tuesday. The dead include a man, his wife, son and two other people who were in the house. The motive for the attack was not clear.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.