- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 28, 2016

Vice President Joseph R. Biden made a surprise visit to Iraq Thursday to try to resolve political disunity in Baghdad that is undermining the Iraqi government’s efforts to fight the Islamic State terrorist group.

Mr. Biden’s office said he will hold meetings with Iraqi leadership “focused on encouraging Iraqi national unity and continued momentum in the fight against” the extremists.

A senior administration official traveling with Mr. Biden said he is “arriving at a moment of a lot of turbulence” in Baghdad. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is trying to implement a pledge to reform his government and reshuffle the cabinet, the official said.

Mr. Abadi won approval Wednesday to install six new ministers, but another 11 cabinet positions are still in flux, the official said.

Meanwhile, Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has had tens of thousands of protestors in the streets of the international zone.

“In the last few days, things have trended in a more stabilizing direction,” the official said, adding: “So, it’s actually a good time to be here.”

The vice president also will try to “encourage everybody to be on the same page in thinking about Mosul,” the official said. The impending battle for Mosul, which has been held by the Islamic State for more than two years, will have to include some combination Kurdish and Iraqi forces, and agreement between the two sides on how to conduct the campaign is crucial, the aide said.

“We have to be realistic. We are at the end of April,” the official said. “Once we get into July and August, it starts to get pretty hot in Iraq and things start to slow down. But we want to make as much progress as possible before the summer heat really rages.”

The administration believes the U.S.-led coalition has momentum in the fight against the extremists, saying the Islamic State has lost 40 percent of the territory it once controlled in Iraq, and tens of thousands of fighters have been taken off the battlefield.

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