- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2009

BAGHDAD

Vice President-elect Joe Biden conferred Monday with Iraqi leaders after a trip to Afghanistan, capping a tour of U.S. battlefronts on a day when police reported bombings killed 10 people in Baghdad.

The four attacks were a reminder that major violence may still return, complicating the incoming administration’s plans to draw down troops in Iraq and focus more attention on Afghanistan.

Biden, a frequent visitor to Iraq as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with President Jalal Talabani, Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi and deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh after arriving in Baghdad.

U.S. officials issued no public statement.

But Abdul-Mahdi said they discussed implementation of a security agreement that took effect on Jan. 1. The accord sets a three-year timeframe for the full withdrawal of American forces.

The Iraqis also stressed the importance of enhancing U.S.-Iraqi cooperation in fields other than security, the Shiite vice president said in a statement.

For his part, Biden renewed the U.S. commitment toward Iraq and stressed the need to continue developing state institutions, according to the statement.

Biden and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham had dinner with the vice president-elect’s son, Beau Biden, and other members of the Delaware National Guard serving in Iraq, Biden’s staff said.

Biden’s trip to Iraq followed visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan this weekend, a little over a week before the Jan. 20 inauguration.

President-elect Barack Obama has promised to end the nearly 6-year-old war in Iraq and refocus U.S. military efforts on Afghanistan, where al-Qaida-linked militants and the Taliban are making a comeback after initial defeats in the U.S.-led invasion of 2001.

But Obama has promised to consult his commanders and the Iraqi government before ordering withdrawals.

American commanders worry that a quick departure could trigger more violence because Iraqi security forces may not be ready to take on more responsibility.

Although violence has declined sharply in Iraq, the U.S. military has warned that security gains are fragile and extremists are likely to step up attacks ahead of this month’s provincial elections.

During his farewell press conference Monday, President George W. Bush said he was not certain whether democracy will survive in Iraq.

“The question is, in the long run, will this democracy survive, and that’s going to be a question for future presidents,” he said.

Monday’s spate of bombings largely targeted Iraqi security forces, which have increasingly been targeted as they take the lead in military operations. U.S. troops are assuming more of an advisory role under the new security agreement.

The attacks began when two vehicles parked about 50 yards apart exploded in quick succession as a police patrol passed a bakery in the mainly Shiite area of New Baghdad.

Police and hospital officials said four people were killed and nine others wounded. The dead included a policeman who died in the hospital.

“I rushed out with others to see three bodies on the ground in pools of blood,” said Mohammed Nasir, 55, who runs a takeout food store in New Baghdad. “There’ve been several bombings before here, and we’re afraid violence will come back.”

The U.S. military said the Iraqi police were hit when explosives planted on a truck detonated as they rushed to the scene of the first blast. The U.S. military gave a lower casualty toll, saying one Iraqi policeman was killed and two civilians were wounded.

In western Baghdad, a roadside bomb struck a military convoy with a truck carrying weapons in the mainly Sunni area of Yarmouk, killing three Iraqi soldiers and wounding four bystanders, police said.

Two other roadside bombs apparently aimed at Iraqi army and police patrols elsewhere in the capital killed three people and wounded six others, police officials said.

The Iraqi officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.

The U.S. military also confirmed that three Iraqi soldiers were killed in Baghdad but said it had no other deaths reported. Casualty tolls frequently differ because of the chaotic aftermath of attacks in Iraq.

Another roadside bomb struck a U.S. patrol in eastern Baghdad later Monday, wounding two American soldiers, according to the military.

Also Monday, the U.S. military announced that an American soldier north of Baghdad and a Marine to the west of the capital died the day before in separate noncombat-related incidents.

At least 4,226 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.

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