Biden Meets Iraqi Officials On Second Day Of Trip

By: CNN
By: CNN

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, meeting Wednesday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said he is confident that Iraq will be able to withstand violent attempts to undermine the country's progress.

"Our goal is to work in partnership with Iraq and help the Iraqi people build a country that's sovereign and stable and self-reliant," said Biden, who is on his third trip to Iraq this year. He held a joint briefing at al-Maliki's residence in Baghdad.

"I think we're making steady progress mutually towards that goal," he said. "We're determined to stand with our Iraqi friends as they address the challenges that remain."

The vice president expressed his condolences for the victims of a spate of bombings on August 19. At least 100 people were killed and more than 500 wounded in the attacks.

"We are confident the terrorists will fail," Biden said.

The "Iraqi people and security forces charged with protecting them have shown great courage, resilience and restraint in the face of this danger," the vice president said, adding that he is confident that "they'll continue to reject ... the forces of destruction."

Biden also said the United States will continue to provide training and support to Iraqi security forces, and reiterated the president's pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat brigades by August 2010 and all American troops by the end of the following year.

In addition, Biden said he and al-Maliki discussed the prime minister's efforts to strengthen national unity.

"The prime minister was kind enough to discuss with us several issues in need of resolution if Iraqis are to achieve the bright future that they have fought so hard for and deserve," he said. He did not elaborate.

The vice president also met with Speaker Ayad Al-Samarrai, Deputy Prime Minister Rafi al-Issawi and Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi.

Biden told al-Issawi that he figured it was his turn to come to Baghdad since al-Issawi had previously made a trip to the United States. He also commented that there is still much to do in Iraq.

As his Iraqi counterpart welcomed him to the country, Biden joked that they can't seem to get rid of him. It's Biden's third trip to Iraq this year, after visits in July and January. U.S. President Barack Obama has asked Biden to provide "sustained, high-level focus" from the Obama administration on Iraq, the White House said.

Biden presented his Iraqi hosts with a crystal bowl with his signature on the bottom as a gift from the United States. He received a golden statue of a palm tree, the national tree of Iraq.

On Tuesday, hours after Biden arrived in Iraq's capital, an attack on the International Zone -- known informally as the Green Zone -- killed two civilians and wounded five others, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said Wednesday.

The victims were living in a residential building in the zone that was hit in the indirect fire, the official said.

A total of three rockets hit the area while the vice president was visiting Tuesday, the U.S. military said. Biden was not hurt, but U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill said at least one round seemed to have landed on the U.S. Embassy grounds.

Such attacks on the zone are unusual, though a few years ago they used to happen 10 to 12 times a day.

The United States is now less than a year away from its goal of withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq.

Hill has said the next 12 months are "very critical" to establishing security in Iraq, but the goal of withdrawing most U.S. troops by August 2010 is "absolutely achievable."

U.S. Gen. Ray Odierno is also "optimistic" that Iraqi forces will be ready in time to allow U.S. withdrawals to go ahead as planned, Biden said.


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