Vice President Joe Biden is visiting U.S. soldiers and Iraqi political
leaders on the first trip by a top U.S. leader to Iraq since the June
30 withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraqi towns and cities. Biden's
trip comes amid a surge of insurgent attacks that are testing the
capabilities of Iraqi forces.
The vice president told
reporters in Baghdad that the Obama administration was dealing with
Iraq both on the political and the military fronts, and that he was
pushing for a political solution to the long-standing conflict, to
accompany the drawdown of U.S. troops.
"The president wants to
focus within the White House on the implementation of our
administration's plan to both draw down troops in Iraq which is under
way the first stage," Biden said, "but also the second piece of that
plan is for there to be a combination of a political settlement among
all the factions within Iraq. There's unresolved issues from boundary
disputes to the oil law and my job is to try to help accommodate that
region and those agreements."
More US pullbacks planned
Iraqi officials have been speaking
with new authority and confidence since the June 30 U.S. pullback from
Iraqi towns and cities. Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammed
al-Askari looks ahead, optimistically, to the next stage of U.S.
He says that the first phase of the U.S. pullout
ended with the U.S. handing over 168 bases and positions to Iraqi
forces. Now, he adds, the next phase will include the drawdown of U.S.
forces from 135,000 to 35,000, leading up to the final withdrawal by
the end of 2011.
Spike in violence
Despite the self-assurance of Iraqi leaders,
many political issues remain. Al Qaida in Iraq has been dealt a severe
blow in recent months, but other insurgent groups continue to operate.
Al-Rafidein TV played more than a half dozen videos of alleged attacks
against U.S. troops, Friday, showering praise on various insurgent
The vice president's visit coincides with a spike in
violence, with several bloody bombings in Baghdad and a car bomb in
Kirkuk. Tuesday, more than 30 people were killed by a powerful car bomb
Conflicts between the mostly Shi'ite government of
Prime Minister al-Maliki and the hardline Sunni opposition continue.
Key Sunni groups accused the prime minister of cheating during the
January elections and complain regularly that he awards top posts to
Some Sunnis are also not pleased by Kurdish autonomy
in the north, and the prospect of the ethnically divided, oil rich city
of Kirkuk going to the Kurds, has many worried.
MP Iyad Samaraie told Al-Baghdadia TV that "everything the Kurds have
done, including their constitution, since the U.S.-led invasion … should
be considered null and void."
Middle East analyst Khattar Abou
Diab, who is a professor at the University of Paris III, says that Vice
President Biden is aiming to push Iraqi politicians to engage in more
dialogue and less violence.
He says that we're now in a
transition phase, following the U.S. pullout from Iraqi cities, and
efforts are being made to normalize ties with Iraq. The French prime
minister's visit, Thursday, he notes, is part of that normalcy,
including economic ties …. [Biden's] visit, he argues, has a larger
vista: he's trying to consolidate the political dialogue now under way,
to normalize the situation further before the final US pullout, and
he's still facing obstacles of violence, regional meddling, and the
situation in Kirkuk. Negotiations are the only way around these
problems, he concludes.
June was the bloodiest month in the last
eight in terms of Iraqi civilian casualties, according to Iraqi
government figures, and both northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul remain