Biden confident in stable Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) - Vice President Joe Biden expressed confidence Wednesday that attempts to destabilize Iraq through violence will fail, and said the country's future depended on its ability to resolve its lingering political and sectarian differences.

Meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in his Baghdad office, Biden said the United States was "committed to the Iraqi government and people as they work to create a peaceful and prosperous Iraq."

Biden's arrival was marred by a rocket attack against the Green Zone on Tuesday evening that killed two Iraqi civilians. The attacks took place after Biden had retired for the night following meetings with American officials on the first day of his visit.

After the meeting with al-Maliki, a couple of explosions could be heard in the vicinity of the Green Zone, a fortified area in downtown Baghdad that houses government offices, agencies and the U.S. and British embassies.

Although violence has declined around Iraq, deadly attacks still occur, including Aug. 19 truck bombings against the foreign and finance ministries that killed more than 100 people.

On Wednesday, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle attacked a checkpoint north of Baghdad, killing three people and wounding nine, police said.

Biden offered his condolences to victims of the Aug. 19 bombings and assured them "we are confident the terrorists will fail."

On the effort to reconcile political and sectarian divides, Biden said that al-Maliki "was kind enough to discuss with us some of the issues that are in need of resolution if the Iraqis are to achieve the bright future they fought for and deserve."

As the number of bombings and other attacks declines elsewhere in Iraq, violence has persisted in the north, which remains a battleground between Sunni Arab extremists and Iraqi and U.S. forces. Kurdish-Arab tension there also frequently flares into violence.

Biden plans to travel north after leaving Baghdad.

Other issues that were discussed included the agreement governing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The U.S.-Iraqi security agreement calls for the withdrawal of American combat forces by the end of August 2010 and of all U.S. troops by the end of the following year. The U.S. military is optimistic that the readiness of Iraqi forces will allow the it to withdraw all combat forces next year according to plan, and then proceed with pulling out the remaining 50,000 troops by the end of the following year.

There are now about 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Al-Maliki described the meeting as "positive" but took no questions. Neither did Biden.

Biden met a broad spectrum of Iraqi officials in Baghdad.

He held talks first with parliament speaker Ayad al-Sammaraie, a senior member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni political party.

The two sides discussed developments in the country's national reconciliation efforts with former Saddam loyalists and other Iraqi internal issues, al-Sammaraie's spokesman Omar al-Mashhadani told AP. He gave no further details.

Over his three-day visit, Biden's main focus was expected to be plans for January elections and the ongoing violence in Iraq's north. Biden last visited Iraq on July 4 to spend U.S. Independence Day with the troops. During that trip he also met with his son, Beau, who is an Army captain serving in Iraq.


Associated Press Writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.


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