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Biden stresses bilateral ties in surprise visit to Iraq

By the CNN Wire Staff
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during a surprise trip to Baghdad Thursday.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during a surprise trip to Baghdad Thursday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The vice president made an unannounced visit to Baghdad Thursday
  • He met with Nuri al-Maliki for the first time since the new government was formed
  • Four bombs exploded in the Iraqi capital during Biden's visit

Baghdad (CNN) -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden focused Thursday on the future of U.S.-Iraqi relations in his first talks with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki since a new Iraqi government was formed last month.

Biden flew in unannounced to Baghdad, where he sat down with al-Maliki to discuss the next phase of bilateral relations, said a statement from al-Maliki's office.

It was not immediately clear to what extent U.S. troop withdrawals and security issues were discussed. But Biden's trip was marred by four bombs that exploded around the Iraqi capital, killing at least two people and wounding 14 others.

In a meeting with U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey and Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Biden said he was in Iraq to celebrate progress.

"They formed a government," Biden said. "And that's a good thing. They have a long way to go."

Struggle for stability in Iraq
RELATED TOPICS
  • Joe Biden
  • Nuri al-Maliki
  • Iraq War

Al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani, who also just started a second term, thanked Biden for U.S. efforts in freeing Iraq from United Nations sanctions imposed during the Saddam Hussein era. The U.N. Security Council voted last month to end the oil-for-food program and other sanctions that were seen as a major step for Iraq regaining full sovereignty.

"The single best thing that can happen to the U.S. literally is for you to be a free, prosperous democracy in the middle of this part of the world," Biden said. "It's the single most significant strategic thing that can happen to the United states in this region."

The United States still has 48,000 troops in Iraq who work in an advisory and training capacity compared to the 144,000 troops stationed there when President Barack Obama took office in 2008. A 2008 agreement mandates the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of the year.

About 60,000 Iraqi security forces lead the effort to thwart violence in Iraq, which has dwindled since the height of the insurgency a few years ago. But bombings like those on Thursday show why security remains a top concern.

 
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