VP Biden Visits Iraq Before US Troops Withdraw

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November 29, 2011

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has made Tuesday a previously unannounced visit to Iraq. The vice president has been meeting with Iraqi leaders, about a month before a deadline for U.S. forces to withdraw from the country.

With the U.S. military mission in Iraq winding down, Vice President Biden went to Baghdad. The visit was designed to help shape the future of the relationship between the two countries.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the vice president's stop in the Iraqi capital shows that President Barack Obama is keeping the promise he made in 2008 to end the Iraq war.

"We are withdrawing the remaining U.S. forces from Iraq, and we are ending that war responsibly and giving the Iraqi people the chance for a better future that they deserve, and also maintaining an important strategic relationship with Iraq," said Biden.

A White House statement says the vice president made the visit to meet with Iraq's leaders and participate in an event recognizing the sacrifices and accomplishments of U.S. and Iraqi troops.

In the meetings with Iraqi leaders, the vice president was expected to focus largely on the future of Washington's military relationship with Iraq. The location of Iraq, between Iran and Syria, makes it an especially strategic U.S. ally.

Officials in Baghdad have said they want U.S. military training help for their security forces. U.S. officials are trying to determine how to help Iraq develop its abilities to fight terrorism.

A suicide car bombing Monday killed at least 19 people at the gates of a prison north of Baghdad. And 15 people died from a series of explosions on Saturday.

The trip to Iraq is Biden's eighth since taking office. The visit was added to a previously-scheduled trip to Turkey and Greece.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is scheduled to visit Washington on December 12.

All U.S. forces are to leave Iraq by December 31, under a security agreement the two nations approved in 2008.

About 14,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, down from about 170,000 at the war's height.

Almost 4,500 American service members have died in Iraq since the U.S. invaded in March, 2003. The Iraq war is one of the longest military conflicts in U.S. history.