- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., on a surprise trip to Iraq as U.S. troops have pulled out of the country’s cities, said he is optimistic about the situation in the region.

Mr. Biden, who has been tasked with handling Iraq issues for the administration, was there to reiterate the U.S. commitment to implementing President Obama’s draw-down plan to have all combat troops out by the end of 2011.

“This is a moment when we have to make sure that the Iraqis don’t take their eye off the ultimate prize,” Mr. Biden told reporters after arriving.

The White House tasked Mr. Biden with overseeing the policy and will work with Iraqis “toward overcoming their political differences and achieving the type of reconciliation that we all understand has yet to fully take place but needs to take place,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said this week.

Wathad Shaqir, chief of the Iraqi Parliament’s national reconciliation committee, told Agence France-Presse that he is “looking forward to a new page” with the United States.

A press pool reporter required to keep the Biden trip secret for safety reasons said the visit was to “try to re-establish contact with Iraqi leaders and try to help foster efforts at political reconciliation.”

The White House said in a statement that Mr. Obama will talk to Iraq’s leaders about “the importance of achieving the political progress that is necessary to ensure the nations long-term stability.”

When arriving in Baghdad, Mr. Biden was greeted by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abbawi, Gen. Ray Odierno and Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby.

On Friday, Mr. Biden plans a coffee meeting with Gen. Odierno and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill, and he will greet embassy and United Nations staffers and representatives from nongovernmental organizations.

Mr. Biden also will meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Vice Presidents Tariq al-Hashimi and Adil Abdul-Mehdi and Speaker of the Council of Representatives Ayad al-Samarrai.

Violence in Iraq has been on the increase lately. An Associated Press tally showed at least 447 Iraqi civilians were killed in June, double those killed in May.

Mr. Biden went on a congressional delegation to the region last winter, after winning the vice presidency but while he was still a senator.

His son, Beau, is serving in Iraq with the Delaware National Guard.

Mr. Obama stopped in Iraq for a brief visit in April.

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