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Friday, 29 April 2016

Biden in surprise Iraq visit to support embattled government

Turmoil in Iraq has seen political class squabble over Prime Minister Abadi's US-backed reform drive.

Much political squabbling
BAGHDAD - US Vice President Joe Biden opened talks in Baghdad Thursday on an unannounced visit to Iraq, whose leadership is bogged down in a protracted political crisis even as its forces battle jihadists.
"The vice president has arrived in Iraq for meetings with (the) Iraqi leadership focused on encouraging Iraqi national unity and continued momentum in the fight against ISIL," a statement from Biden's office said, using an acronym for the Islamic State jihadist group.
Biden went into a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi shortly after stepping off the C-17 military transport plane that flew him to Baghdad.
Abadi discussed political, security and economic developments with Biden, the premier's office said.
Biden's visit comes at a time of political turmoil which has seen Iraq's fractious political class squabble over Abadi's efforts to replace the current government of party-affiliated ministers with a cabinet of technocrats.
Opposition to Abadi's US-backed reform drive has sparked chaos in parliament, with lawmakers brawling in parliament, staging a sit-in and throwing water bottles towards the premier.
Thousands of supporters of prominent Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have also protested in recent days outside the fortified "Green Zone" -- where Biden and Abadi met Thursday -- ostensibly to lend mass support to the reform process.
The political shambles has further discredited politicians who are widely seen as corrupt and pursuing only the interests of their parties, clans or sects.
- Praise for Abadi -
A US administration official travelling with Biden praised Abadi, whom many, including within his own party, have criticised as a weak leader.
He said that Abadi "has been a very effective prime minister. He's really pulled the country together."
"The vice president will also be discussing steps the international community can take to promote Iraq's economic stability and further regional cooperation," the statement from Biden's office said.
Baghdad is grappling with a damaging budget crunch, caused largely by the drop in the price of oil, which accounts for more than 90 percent of Iraq's revenue.
It is the highest-ranking visit by a US official to Iraq since Biden travelled to Iraq in 2011.
With the US election campaign in full swing and President Barack Obama due to leave office having served two terms, Biden's visit is also likely to be his last to Iraq as vice president.
"The vice president has been the point person on Iraq for the administration since the beginning," the US official told reporters on Biden's plane.
"He's been itching to get back for a while -- looking for an opportunity. This seemed like a good moment to do it," the official said.
The White House did not immediately disclose Biden's full programme in Iraq.

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