Biden: U.S. won't abandon Iraq

July 5, 2010 at 9:47 PM
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BAGHDAD, July 5 (UPI) -- The United States is committed to a long-term partnership with Iraq and won't abandon the country once combat troops leave, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said.

"We're not disengaging from Iraq. The nature of our engagement is changing," an unidentified senior administration official in Baghdad said Sunday in a briefing about Biden's discussions with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iyad Allawi, a former prime minister who was elected in March to succeed Maliki.

The U.S. combat mission is scheduled to end Aug. 31 but 50,000 troops will remain, the official said.

"We're moving from a military lead to a civilian lead," he said. "As we draw down the military force, we're ramping up our diplomatic, political and economic engagement. And we're working hard to bring to life the strategic framework agreement signed between our governments."

Biden also spoke about the formation of a coalition government, which hasn't been done yet.

"He made it very clear that we have no candidates, we have no preferred outcomes, we have no plan," the official said.

The United States, however, doesn't want outside influences playing a role in forming a new government, the official said. U.S. leaders also believe the Iraqi people "would like to see an inclusive government and so would we, because that is the path to stability and progress in Iraq … ."

The official, whose name was not reported, said Biden expressed hope that ministries are run by competent, effective people.

Biden was in "listening mode" during his one-on-one meetings with Maliki and Allawi "trying to learn from the Iraqis how they saw this (development of a new government) playing out," the senior official said.

While not offering a time frame, the official said Biden is "confident the Iraqis will get the job done."

Biden left Iraq Monday evening after meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

The vice president and Talabani discussed ways to make progress in the political process, Talabani said in a statement Monday. The statement did not provide details of the discussion, The Washington Post reported.

Biden observed Independence Day by attending a naturalization ceremony for soldiers who were becoming U.S. citizens, the Post said.

Mortar rounds fell inside Baghdad's Green Zone Sunday during Biden's visit, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. CNN reported officials as saying no damage or injuries were reported in the district formally known as the International Zone where Iraqi offices and the U.S. Embassy are located.

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