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Middle East

Biden in Baghdad for talks with Iraqi leaders


Latest update : 2009-09-15

US Vice-President Joe Biden has arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit to meet Iraqi officials and push for a solution to disputes between rival communities ahead of a full withdrawal of US troops.

REUTERS - US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday, his third trip to Iraq this year, for talks with the conflict-hit nation's political leaders and to meet American troops.

Biden has been given a special mission by US President Barack Obama to keep a high-level focus on Iraq ahead of the withdrawal of all combat troops from the country by August next year.

He was greeted at Baghdad airport by General Ray Odierno, the top US military officer in Iraq, American ambassador to Baghdad Christopher Hill and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

The White House said earlier that Biden would meet President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other senior leaders in Baghdad.

"He will also meet with representatives from the United Nations mission in Iraq. Vice President Biden will convey the strong US commitment to Iraq's future and national unity," it said in a statement.

He was accompanied by US National Security Adviser Tony Blinken and Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg.

Biden last visited Iraq in July, a three-day trip that coincided with American Independence Day when he met troops and Iraqi officials just days after the June 30 US withdrawal from urban centres. He also visited in January.

In the wake of the US pullback, he said America's role in Iraq was switching from deep military engagement to one of diplomatic support, ahead of a complete withdrawal by the end of 2011.

However after Biden's last visit, Baghdad warned Washington to back off in its attempts to resolve rows between the strife-torn country's sects, saying that such interference could cause fresh problems.

The caution came after Biden warned of a "hard road ahead if Iraq is going to find lasting peace and stability," alluding to the need to bolster trust between different ethnic and religious groups.

Biden had repeatedly voiced concern about lingering feuds between Iraq's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities being a roadblock to political progress.

His latest visit coincides with a spike in violence across the country, much of it in the north where tensions between Iraq's majority Arab and minority Kurd communities remain high.

Five days ago, a suicide truck bomber triggered a massive blast in a Kurdish village as residents slept, flattening homes and killing at least 22 people.

The number of violent deaths in Iraq hit a 13-month high in August, raising fresh concerns about stability after the government admitted that security is worsening.

Statistics compiled by the defence, interior and health ministries showed that 456 people -- 393 civilians, 48 police and 15 Iraqi soldiers -- were killed, the highest monthly toll since July 2008 when 465 died in unrest.

In stark contrast, August saw seven American soldiers killed, the lowest monthly toll since the March 2003 US-led invasion.

The high number of Iraqis killed last month was partly explained by twin truck bomb attacks on the finance and foreign ministries in Baghdad that left at least 95 people dead and 600 others wounded on August 19.

Date created : 2009-09-15