- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2009

UPDATED:

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., on his second visit to the Iraq war zone this summer, met with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad on Tuesday as the Green Zone was hit by four rounds of mortar fire.

Mr. Biden was fine and no damage was reported, but the U.S. delegation on the surprise trip heard a signal to take cover several times, according to a pool reporter present for the visit. During Mr. Biden’s first visit, the only scare came from sandstorms that prevented a helicopter trip.

The White House announced Mr. Biden’s arrival just after 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and said the vice president would meet with troops and Iraqi leaders and representatives of the United Nations mission there. President Obama has charged the vice president with monitoring the situation in the 6-year-old war as U.S. combat forces prepare to draw down.

The Associated Press reported from Baghdad that four mortar shells landed in the Green Zone as Mr. Biden arrived.

The shells were heard as they were fired from across the river on the east bank of the Tigris, and at least one explosion was audible.

The U.S. military said it had initial reports that “one round of indirect fire impacted near the [Green Zone], not in it.”

The Green Zone is the walled-off area in the heart of Baghdad that is home to government offices, the U.S. and British embassies, and the Iraqi parliament.

The vice president said the U.S. commander, Gen. Ray Odierno, is “optimistic” the Iraqi troops and police will be trained and ready for the withdrawal plan to continue as scheduled.

Mr. Biden told reporters in Baghdad he was “here to listen” and stressed his strong relationship with Iraqi leaders, from whom he believes he has won “a measure of trust.”

He said he’s been asked twice by the Iraqis to “act as an interlocutor” as they work through difficult political issues such as a new law governing national elections.

“A successful election is the necessary condition for some of the outstanding political issues to be resolved,” Mr. Biden said. Mr. Biden spent two nights in Iraq in early July just after U.S. troops pulled out of the country’s cities as part of an overall withdrawal plan. He also was there before taking office in January.

Mr. Biden, who told Iraqi officials at the conclusion of his last visit that he would be back frequently, was told that since his visit was the longest by a top U.S. official, he helped boost good will and troop morale. It was not clear how long the current visit will last.

On this trip Mr. Biden was to meet with a broad range of Iraqi officials, including President Jalal Talabani; Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; Ayad al-Samarrai, speaker of the Council of Representatives; and Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The trip comes as Mr. Obama is considering a recommendation from his top generals for increased troop levels in Afghanistan. Attention has shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan as the military situation there has deteroriated.

Mr. Biden’s son Beau has served in Iraq with the Delaware National Guard and is expected to return home soon.

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

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