ERBIL– US Vice President Joe Biden met Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other top officials in unannounced visits to Baghdad and Erbil to show support for a government battling Islamic State amid political and economic crises.
It was the first visit for Biden, the White House’s point person on Iraq, since US forces withdrew in 2011 after nearly nine years of occupation. He was the third and highest-level US official to visit the country this month. Islamic State militant group seized large portions of Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014.
Iraqi forces have won back some territory, such as the western city of Ramadi, but often after long battles that have left the areas destroyed. Biden’s trip, several months in the planning, is a sign of the progress Washington believes Iraqi forces have made in beating back the militants over the past year and its hope that the northern city of Mosul can be recaptured before US President Barack Obama leaves office in January.
“This is a good indication of the United States’ continued support for Prime Minister Abadi’s efforts to unify the nation of Iraq to confront Islamic State,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. The vice president has close relationships with Iraqi leaders and speaks with them about every 10 days. Still, there’s no substitute for being able to sit down face-to-face, a US official said.
Biden, a longtime US senator before becoming vice president in 2009, said he had been to Iraq almost 30 times during his career. His first stop on Thursday was Baghdad where he met Abadi and Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri to discuss progress in the fight against Islamic State, including plans to retake Mosul.