The White House says Vice President Joe Biden has spoken by phone with Iraqi leaders to urge them to hold a "dialogue" to resolve a political crisis in their fragile power-sharing government.
Biden's office says he spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday and the president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region Massoud Barzani on Saturday. It says the vice president "exchanged views with both leaders on the current political climate in Iraq" and reiterated U.S. support for "ongoing efforts to convene a dialogue among Iraqi political leaders."
Biden has played a leading role in U.S. diplomatic efforts to try to calm Iraq's sectarian tensions, which intensified as the U.S. military completed a withdrawal from the country earlier this month, ending an eight-year long war.
Since the pullout, Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Maliki has called on the country's Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi to appear in a Baghdad court to face charges of hiring bodyguards to assassinate political opponents. Hashemi fled the capital to Iraqi Kurdistan to avoid an arrest warrant in the case. Iraqi Kurdish leaders have given him refuge.
Maliki also has urged parliament to fire his Sunni deputy Saleh al-Mutlak, who called the prime minister a dictator in a recent interview.
Hashemi and Mutlak belong to Iraqiya, a parliamentary faction backed by many of Iraq's minority Sunnis. It began a boycott of parliament this month to protest Maliki's perceived centralization of power in the hands of his Shi'ite ruling faction.
In an interview with the French news agency published Sunday, Hashemi acknowledged that his guards may have carried out attacks, but he denied any involvement. He said he will not return to Baghdad because the jailing of his guards leaves him with no security in the city and because he believes Iraq's judicial system is politicized.
Hashemi has called for his case to be transferred to Iraqi Kurdistan's court system.
In Biden's phone calls with Iraqi leaders, the White House says he also offered condolences for a wave of bombings in Baghdad that killed at least 69 people on Thursday. The attacks raised concerns about Iraqi leaders' ability to secure the country as they try to resolve bitter political divisions in the absence of U.S. troops.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.