World Digest: Mortar Fire Greets Vice President Biden in Baghdad
Mortar Fire Greets Biden in Baghdad
Amid a brief rumble of mortar fire, Vice President Biden arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday for meetings with U.S. and Iraqi officials at a time when many Iraqis are pushing for a quick U.S. departure after more than six years of war.
Biden touched down in a C-17 cargo plane in a hot dusk, then made his way by helicopter to the enormous new U.S. Embassy, where he met with Gen. Ray Odierno and Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, the top U.S. military and diplomatic officials, respectively, in Iraq.
In brief remarks afterward, Biden said he is in Baghdad as an "interlocutor" to help Iraqi leaders resolve a number of pressing political issues, chief among them reaching agreement on a law establishing the rules for the scheduled January general election.
"They are ultimately all Iraqi decisions," Biden said.
As he met with U.S. officials in the Green Zone, the fortified area where Iraqi ministries and the U.S. Embassy sit, the shudder of nearby mortar fire disturbed the night, and warnings to take cover sounded throughout the compound. Biden was unharmed.
The vice president is running point on Iraq in the Obama administration, and this visit is his second in two months.
Since his previous visit, the Iraqi government has set in motion a proposed referendum measure on the status of U.S. forces, which if passed could move up by a year the December 2011 withdrawal deadline for all U.S. troops.
Biden said that, although Iraqi officials have told him the referendum is likely to go forward early next year, "a number of steps still need to be taken."
He plans to spend Wednesday in meetings with Iraq's political leaders, many of them Sunnis and Shiites composing the government's senior ranks. On Thursday, he will talk with Kurdish officials.
-- Scott Wilson