- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vice President Joseph R. Biden made a surprise visit to Baghdad on Tuesday night to meet with Iraqi officials and thank U.S. troops in advance of the year-end drawdown of coalition forces.

The White House said Mr. Biden will co-chair a meeting of the U.S.-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee and meet with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, and other political leaders. The vice president will also participate in an event to commemorate the sacrifices and accomplishments of U.S. and Iraqi troops.

Mr. Biden’s stop, during a trip to Greece and Turkey, was not announced in advance because of security concerns. It was his eighth trip to Iraq as vice president.

On Oct. 21, President Obama and Mr. Maliki agreed to a drawdown of U.S. forces by the end of 2011 after the two governments could not agree on extending immunity for U.S. troops serving there. Some U.S. military advisers had recommended keeping several thousand American troops in Iraq into 2012, in part as a precaution against belligerent Iran.

Upon his arrival, Mr. Biden met with U.S. ambassador to Iraq James F. Jeffrey and the top U.S. commander there, Gen. Lloyd Austin, who joked with the vice president that he is eligible for Iraqi citizenship now.

“It’s good to be back for this purpose,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s good to be back.”

After nine years of war and U.S. military occupation, the two nations are trying to coordinate policies on Iraq’s vast oil reserves, security of the massive U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad and potential threats from Iran. Marines will guard the embassy, the largest American one in the world.

The White House said the meeting of the Higher Coordinating Committee in Baghdad will address cooperation on trade, finance, energy, technology, security and other issues.

About 14,000 U.S. troops are still in the country, down from a high of about 170,000. All of those troops will be out of Iraq by January.

Mr. Biden and Iraqi leaders will also likely discuss Ali Mussa Daqduq, a Lebanese Hezbollah commander linked to the deaths of four American troops in Karbala in 2007.

Last week, the U.S. turned over all the remaining detainees in its custody to the Iraqi government in compliance with a 2008 agreement, with the exception of Mr. Daqduq. U.S. officials are worried that if he is transferred to Iraqi custody, he could escape justice.

The Obama administration is considering whether to transfer Mr. Daqduq to the U.S., but that would require the cooperation of the Iraqi government.

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