U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has urged rival Iraqi politicians in Baghdad to end months of delays in forming a new 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.
After the talks, Biden hosted a reception for Iraqi politicians in which he said all of Iraq's sectarian groups will have to play a meaningful role in the next government in order for it to work. He pleaded with them to finish what they started.
Mr. Allawi said Biden offered no specific proposals during their meeting to break Iraq's post-election deadlock. Mr. Allawi said Biden expressed an interest in Iraq's stability.
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 coalitions.
Mr. Maliki called for Iraq's leaders to avoid divisions about matters related to the economy and serving Iraqi citizens.
Radical Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr released a statement urging Mr. Maliki and Mr. Allawi to make sure their political negotiations follow an Iraqi agenda, not an American one.
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, Biden told U.S. soldiers at a base near Baghdad that U.S. plans to withdraw troops from Iraq remain on track. He also said Washington will "ramp up" its engagement with Iraq in various fields to build what he called a "long and strong" partnership.
Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.