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Biden makes surprise visit to Iraq

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 3:11 PM EST, Tue November 29, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "It's good to be back," Biden says after his arrival
  • Biden will meet with Iraq's prime minister and president
  • The vice president arrives in Baghdad on Tuesday on a previously unannounced visit
  • Nearly all U.S. troops are scheduled to be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011

Baghdad (CNN) -- Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Baghdad Tuesday on a previously unannounced trip to Iraq.

"It's good to be back," Biden told reporters shortly after landing as he prepared to meet with U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey and Gen. Lloyd Austin, the U.S. commanding officer in Iraq.

While in the country, Biden also will meet with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, and other top political leaders, according to a statement from the White House.

In addition, Biden will participate in an event "to commemorate the sacrifices and accomplishments of U.S. and Iraqi troops," the statement noted.

Biden's visit -- his eighth since being elected vice president -- comes in the midst of an increasingly rapid U.S. military withdrawal from the Middle Eastern country. Virtually all American troops are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of this year, according to the terms of the most recent U.S.-Iraqi security pact.

Negotiations over a possible extension of the U.S. military presence collapsed earlier this year after Iraq's top political leaders refused to grant U.S. troops legal immunity, opening up the prospect of soldiers' being tried in Iraqi courts and being subjected to Iraqi punishment.

Of the approximately 11,000 troops in Iraq, down from the 50,000 three months earlier, only about 150 are expected to remain after the deadline, a U.S. official previously told CNN.

Violence in Iraq remains at its lowest overall level since 2003, according to the White House. At least 13 people were killed Monday, however, when a suicide bomber drove his vehicle into a security checkpoint at a prison in Baghdad's Taji district, local police officials said.

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