- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

Vice President Joe Biden said in Iraq Friday the United States stands “ready if asked and if helpful” as the nation moves toward political reconciliation, but warned of more violence as the U.S. removes troops from the region.

“There is a hard road ahead,” Mr. Biden told reporters while meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. “It’s not over yet.”

Mr. Maliki noted “common partnership and common efforts” between the United States and Iraq when it comes to defeating al Qaeda.

The leaders met at the prime minister’s residence and spoke to reporters in the same room where a protesting journalist threw his shoes at former President Bush last year on his last visit to Iraq.

As Mr. Biden outlined U.S. policy for top Iraq officials Friday, hundreds of Iraqi protesters welcomed his visit by burning the U.S. flag and shouting anti-American slogans. Powerful sandstorms delayed some of the vice president’s planned visits with Iraqi leaders and U.S. commanders on the ground, but Mr. Biden met with key leaders with the goal of fostering political reconciliation as U.S. troops have withdrawn from the major Iraqi cities.

On Friday Mr. Biden also had breakfast with his son, Beau Biden, serving in Iraq with the Delaware National Guard.

The AFP news service reported that the protesters, considered supporters of the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, were chanting “No, no America, no, no occupation. Yes, yes Iraq,” as they burned the American flag in Sadr City, Baghdad’s huge Shiite enclave.

Mr. Biden’s aides said he met with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill and was briefed by Gen. Ray Odierno about the withdrawal of troops, which began Tuesday.

“General Odierno and the vice president also discussed the overall security situation in Iraq, the capabilities of Iraqi forces and the mission of U.S. forces going forward,” the press office said in a statement. “Ambassador Hill discussed with the vice president the political situation in Iraq and the status of efforts to make progress on the various outstanding political issues in the country.”

Mr. Biden met with Gen. Odierno and Mr. Hill at the home the general shares with other officials — a marble palace that once belonged to Saddam Hussein. The vice president’s meetings were all held behind closed doors. Reporters were allowed in only as the leaders posed for photos.

At one point a reporter heard Mr. Biden tell Iraqi speaker Ayad al Sanaraei that President Obama had sent him.

“Your leadership is strong and I’m very anxious to hear what you have to say,” Mr. Biden told the speaker.

Mr. Biden told reporters the trip was the first of several to the region. When he served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Biden made multiple trips to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The president said, ‘Joe, go do it.’ I think he knows I know the country, I know the politics, I’ve spent a lot of time here, I’ve a lot of my public life in my last eight years in this area,” Mr. Biden told reporters.

But he also is a somewhat controversial figure in Iraq, having supported in the Senate a plan to divide the country essentially along its sectarian and ethnic lines. Mr. Bidenalso plans an Independence Day celebration with troops.

Mr. Biden’s wife, Jill, also was visiting U.S. troops, making a stop at an Army base in Bamberg, Germany for lunch with soldiers and their families.

Mrs. Biden, a community college professor, made the stop while on her way to a conference on higher education in Paris where she will deliver a keynote address.

“I am a military mom,” she told the troops, according to the Associated Press. “I know what it’s like to have a loved one in a war zone.”

Mrs. Biden said she wanted to see expanded services for children and families of soldiers who relocate frequently and more mental health programming because “military families are under a lot of stress, especially in a time of war.”

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