Biden visits Iraq in show of support amid multiple crises
ARBIL/BAGHDAD – Reuters
AFP photoU.S. Vice President Joe Biden met Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other top officials in unannounced visits to Baghdad and Arbil on April 28 to show support for a government battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) amid political and economic crises.
It was the first visit for Biden, the White House’s point person on Iraq, since U.S. forces withdrew in 2011 after nearly nine years of occupation. He was the third and highest-level U.S. official to visit the country this month.
Biden’s trip, several months in the planning, is a sign of the progress Washington believes Iraqi forces have made in beating back the militants over the past year and its hope that the northern city of Mosul can be recaptured before U.S. President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017.
“This is a good indication of the United States’ continued support for Prime Minister Abadi’s efforts to unify the nation of Iraq to confront ISIL,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
His first stop on April 28 was Baghdad where he met Abadi and Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri to discuss “progress” in the fight against ISIL, including plans to retake Mosul.
“It’s real. It’s serious. It’s committed,” Biden told reporters.
Iraqi officials say they will retake Mosul this year but, in private, many question whether that is possible.
He later flew to Arbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), for a 90-minute working dinner with the region’s president, Massoud Barzani, to discuss the Mosul offensive in which Kurdish peshmerga forces are expected to have a critical role.
The peshmerga have emerged as a key component of a U.S.-led coalition’s strategy to “degrade and destroy” ISIL, driving the insurgents back in northern Iraq with the help of air strikes despite a financial crisis that has made it difficult to pay salaries.