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Biden says U.S. 'stands ready' to help Iraq

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:41 AM EST, Wed November 30, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Biden met with Nuri al-Maliki
  • The trip comes as the troop draw down continues
  • Violence is at its lowest level since '03

Baghdad (CNN) -- Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday the United States is geared up for a "new and comprehensive civilian relationship" with Iraq after American troops are withdrawn by the end of the year.

"We are absolutely committed to be your partner to the extent you want us to be," Biden told Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki. "We stand read to provide assistance.

Biden arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday, his eighth visit to Iraq since being elected vice president.

It 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 Virtually all American troops are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of this year, according to the terms of the most recent U.S.-Iraqi security pact.

"We are here for one reason and only one reason: to assist in the development of the capacity of this great nation. Because as you develop, as you reach your potential which has been stunted by Saddam and terror following it, it is good for the whole world. It will bring stability to this region. That is our sole interest in Iraq. Period. End of story," he said, making reference to the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

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 approximate 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.

"Our military forces are going to draw down," Biden said. "There will still be security concerns, but we are confident your government is fully capable of handling those internal security concerns," Biden said.

Al-Maliki said Iraq is "moving forward," working to combat terror and develop the country. He said he is hoping Iraq will be a "central power in the region" and will move from security challenges to the challenges of state building.

"American companies we hope will be present in the same amount of U.S. forces that were present," he said.

Biden and al-Maliki held a meeting of the U.S.-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee, an entity that came into being after both countries signed the Strategic Framework Agreement, a bilateral pact.

"The United States of America and the Republic of Iraq are committed to forging a strong partnership based on mutual interests that will continue to grow for years to come. Our two nations are entering a new phase in our relationship. We have a historic opportunity to strengthen our ties beyond security and build a multi-faceted relationship through trade, education, culture, law enforcement, environment, energy, and other important areas," according to a statement from the committee.

"Three years ago, our nations signed the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), affirming both sides' desire to establish long-term bonds of cooperation and friendship. The SFA is a lasting agreement, and one that serves as the foundation on which we are building a durable and mutually beneficial relationship. Today, we gather again in Baghdad to reaffirm our commitment to this important partnership and to the principles of cooperation, sovereignty, and mutual respect articulated in the SFA."

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