- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 4, 2009

As anti-American protesters nearby burned a U.S. flag, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. vowed in Iraq on Friday that those seeking to destroy progress will fail but warned the United States would re-evaluate its role in Iraq if there is continued sectarian violence.

“President Obama asked me to return to Iraq with a very, very clear message: The United States is committed to Iraq’s progress and Iraq’s success,” Mr. Biden told reporters while meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

As Mr. Biden discussed policy in closed-door meetings with Iraqi leaders and U.S. commanders, hundreds of Iraqi protesters marked his visit by burning the U.S. flag and shouting anti-American slogans.

Agence France-Presse reported the protesters, considered supporters of the radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, were chanting, “No, no, America, no, no, occupation. Yes, yes, Iraq” as they demonstrated in Sadr City, the capital’s huge Shi’ite enclave.

The leaders met at the prime minister’s residence and spoke to reporters in the same room where a protesting reporter threw his shoes at George W. Bush during a press briefing last year on Mr. Bush’s last visit to Iraq as president.

Mr. Maliki cited the “common partnership and common efforts” between the United States and Iraq in defeating al Qaeda. Mr. Biden said the United States stands “ready if asked and if helpful” as the nation moves toward political reconciliation and as U.S. troops withdraw from major Iraqi cities.

“The president and I appreciate that Iraq has traveled a great distance over the past year,” Mr. Biden said, “but there is a hard road ahead if Iraq is going to find lasting peace and stability. It’s not over yet.”

Mr. Biden was recently tapped by Mr. Obama as the administration point man on Iraq.

“Your successful future is very much in our interest,” he said.

Mr. Biden also revealed that Mr. Maliki will soon be visiting the United States.

The vice president had breakfast during his visit with his son, Beau Biden, serving in Iraq with the Delaware National Guard.

Mr. Biden’s press staff said he also met with Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and was briefed by Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, about the withdrawal of troops from Iraqi cities, 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 Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Biden stressed his strong relationship with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and a senior administration official said the vice president’s assignment will not be as “day-to-day desk officer for Iraq” but rather to support them and Gen. Odierno and Mr. Hill.

The official said Mr. Biden’s tone with Iraqi leaders was “direct” and the vice president made clear the withdrawal of combat troops is being matched by increased engagement in other fields as the United States tries to help Iraq attain political stability.

The official also told reporters in Iraq that Mr. Biden said if the country spirals back into violence, the Obama administration would reconsider its role there.

“We wanted to see that through, but there also wasn’t any appetite to put Humpty Dumpty back together again if, by the actions of people in Iraq, it fell apart,” the official said.

Mr. Biden told reporters that the trip is the first of several to the region. When he served as chairman of the 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.

He also plans an Independence Day celebration with troops.

Mr. Biden’s wife, Jill, a community college professor, was visiting U.S. troops in Europe Friday, making a stop at an Army base in Bamberg, Germany, for lunch with soldiers and their families before addressing at a conference on higher education in Paris.

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