Biden's Iraq Visit Tarnished By Violence
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.
Vice President Joe Biden is on a surprise three-day visit to Iraq, a country embroiled in political crisis. It's been four months since parliamentary elections and the rival parties still do not appear close to an agreement on forming a government. And there's also criticism among Iraqi leaders about the direction of American policy toward their country. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us from Baghdad.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good morning.
KELLY: Let me start with - I gather there was a bit of violence that marred this visit. So start with that. Tell us a little bit about what happened.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes. Yesterday, there were a series of mortars that landed in the green zone. This is where the U.S. embassy is located and where Iraqi senior officials have their homes and offices. We know that at least one of the rounds hit an area inside or near the embassy. But what the embassy says is that there were no damages or casualties.
There were also two suicide bomb attacks yesterday, as well. So there is violence in Iraq everyday. It's much less than it was, of course. But this is a reminder to the vice president, to the U.S. in general, that this is still not a peaceful place. And, of course, the violence comes as the U.S. draw down of its troops here gathers pace. There will be 50,000 troops here by summer's end.
KELLY: Now, what was it the vice president is hoping to accomplish by coming to Iraq over this July 4th weekend?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, it was July 4th and he obviously spent some time with the troops serving here. But Biden has been tasked by the president in overseeing Iraq. And there has been some criticism, as you mentioned, that U.S. policy here seems adrift.
Since the elections here some four months ago, we haven't had a government. �Ayad Allawi, the secular Shiite former prime minister, who won the most seats in the vote, is vying with the sitting prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to see who gets to form that government.
Biden met with both men, yesterday, for about an hour each. In a statement after those encounters, Biden told reporters that he urged all sides to work together to form an inclusive government.
Now, I think the thing that has been reiterated here to the Iraqis, to reporters, is that the U.S. is still engaged, still interested and will still have a long term relationship with Iraq, regardless of what happens with the troops.
And certainly, that was something that the vice president and all of his entourage kept on repeating, over and over again. The United States is still interested. Our policy is not adrift.
KELLY: Well, and what was your sense of how that message was received? Has he walked away with any tangible achievement here?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Senior administration officials traveling with the vice president have made it clear, Mary Louise, that there's been a real shift in U.S. policy. They say that they're not backing any candidate, that the U.S. has not hidden agenda here, that the days when it would dictate to Iraqis what they should do with their political process is over. They said the vice president was here to listen, to urge the sides to move together, and to give voice to U.S. concerns over issues like who gets to be in charge of the ministries once the government is formed.
You know, they spoke about things that the U.S. was concerned about, but they were clear to say the U.S. is here, not to dictate, simply to try and move these two sides together.
KELLY: Well, and what's the reaction among the Iraqis, that the vice president was meeting with, to this shift in policy you're describing?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, it's an odd thing, you know. I think in many ways, Iraqis don't really know what they want from the U.S. these days, you know. On the one hand, they want what they see as the military occupation to end. They blame the U.S. invasion for opening a Pandora's Box of bloodshed and violence.
Yet, you also hear the very same people - be they politicians or regular Iraqis - express worry at the U.S. military pullout, fearing that it may be taking place too soon and too fast, talking about how they don't trust their own government, their own political partners and security services.
So both the United States and Iraqis are in this period of adjustment.
The mission here is ramping down. The signs are everywhere. And I think the Iraqis are having a tough time trying to deal with that, trying to understand where U.S. policy is going next.
KELLY: OK. Thanks very much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.
KELLY: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro speaking to us from Baghdad.
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