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Biden, in Iraq, urges leaders to form government


New York Times: Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. drew an analogy to the signers of the Declaration of Independence on Sunday in exhorting Iraqi leaders to end the paralysis that has stalled the formation of a government since the parliamentary elections four months ago.

The New York Times


BAGHDAD — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. drew an analogy to the signers of the Declaration of Independence on Sunday in exhorting Iraqi leaders to end the paralysis that has stalled the formation of a government since the parliamentary elections four months ago.

“When they signed that declaration, many of them did not even like one another,” Mr. Biden, making his fourth trip to Baghdad as vice president, told a group of Iraqi leaders at a Fourth of July reception at the residence of the United States ambassador, Christopher R. Hill. “My plea to you is to continue what you started,” he said.

Mr. Biden’s visit came amid grumbling by some Iraqi officials that American policy in Iraq has lately lacked focus, as the United States withdraws large numbers of troops at a time of political dysfunction and daily violence. There is no sign that the deadlocked coalitions that won seats in the March elections are any closer to forming a government.

That Iraq is still a violent land was evident Sunday when less than three hours after Mr. Biden’s remarks mortar explosions were heard near the fortified Green Zone area that includes the United States Embassy compound. Officials said Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill, were safe, although it remained unclear late Sunday whether anyone else had been hurt.

Earlier Sunday, a woman blew herself up in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar Province, detonating explosives hidden in her underwear, the police said. The explosion went off in a waiting room next to the provincial governor’s office, and four people were killed.

Mr. Biden has visited Iraq 17 times since 2003, when he was still a senator, and has seen the country evolve from an occupied war zone to a bloody sectarian battlefield to a fragile democracy. His latest visit has required a delicate diplomatic dance of trying to subtly influence Iraq’s internal politics while not appearing to impugn the nation’s sovereignty.

“You should not, and I’m sure you will not, let any state, from the United States to any state in the region, dictate what will become of you all,” Mr. Biden said in his reception remarks. It was a statement that was clearly a reference to neighboring Iran, which was not shy about publicly entering the Iraqi political fray in the postelection period. Like Iraq, Iran is dominated by Shiites.

Mr. Biden’s public schedule on Sunday began with a ceremony to award citizenship to immigrant American soldiers in the marble rotunda of a palace that once served as Saddam Hussein’s hunting lodge. He noted that he was bestowing American citizenship in a building that housed a dictator who “stood for everything that we don’t stand for.”

“I find it delicious that that’s happening,” he said.

Later, his entourage flew in a procession of helicopters from Camp Victory near the airport to the Green Zone, for meetings with Iraqi leaders. He first met with Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister, whose Iraqiya coalition won the most seats in Parliament, although less than a majority required to form a government.

In a statement released by the office of Deputy Prime Minister Rafi al-Essawi, who hosted the meeting, Mr. Allawi said: “During the meeting, we focused on the situation in the country and the region and the need to accelerate the formation of the government. There were no specific proposals from the U.S. side.”

Mr. Biden’s motorcade then snaked through the Green Zone to the home of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who lives in a neighborhood of waterways known as Little Venice. Afterward, a member of Mr. Maliki’s political party, Khalid al-Assadi, said in a statement that the “process of forming a government is going on quietly.”

At the embassy cocktail reception, Mr. Biden drew on his evolving perception of the country, informed from his previous visits, and cited Baghdad’s notorious traffic jams as an example of progress. He said that during his last visit, he noticed from the window of his helicopter “bumper to bumper” traffic.

“Welcome to peace and democracy,” Mr. Biden said. “But it is the most significant sign that life and commerce and celebration has returned.”

Nonetheless, in a sign of how much further Iraq must go, he did not venture beyond the secure bubbles of the massive army base at Camp Victory or the barricaded streets of the Green Zone.

Timothy Williams contributed reporting.

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