WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2011 — After meeting in Iraq today with its new governmental leaders and with U.S. officials, Vice President Joe Biden promised deployed U.S. service members the United States will draw down its forces in a way that preserves their achievements and honors the sacrifices made there.
Biden is the highest-level U.S. official to visit Iraq since it formed what Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, called “the most inclusive government in their history.” The vice president met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqiyya coalition leader Ayad Allawi, President Jalal Talabani, Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and other political leaders.
Biden also met with Austin and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James F. Jeffrey to discuss progress made, challenges ahead and plans to continue drawing down U.S. forces in Iraq through Dec. 31.
“I’m here to help the Iraqis celebrate the progress they made,” Biden told reporters as he met with Austin and Jeffrey. “They formed a government, and that’s a good thing. They have a long way to go.”
Following today’s sessions, Biden thanked an assembly of U.S. military members at Camp Victory for what they and those who served before them have helped to accomplish in Iraq and beyond.
Because of their “incredible sacrifices,” he said, the Iraqi people are on the verge of having a country that will be “democratic, sustainable, and God willing, prosperous.” “And it can have a dramatic impact on this entire region,” he added.
Biden pledged to the service members that the United States will end the war responsibly and “leave behind a country that is worthy of the sacrifices that so many of your brothers and sisters have made.”
He noted that 4,422 U.S. service members have died in Iraq, and nearly 32,000 more have been wounded. While U.S. casualties have decreased dramatically, Biden said, the most recent losses earlier this week demonstrate that duty in Iraq “is not a normal day at the office.”
“You are still risking your lives for your country,” he said.
Troops serving during Operation New Dawn in Iraq are laying groundwork that will remain long after they return home to their families and loved ones, Biden told the group.
He recognized, as an example, that the 807th Medical Command is helping the Iraqis build the infrastructure to deliver quality health care to their people.
The U.S. military mission is to advise and assist Iraq’s security forces, conduct partnered counterterrorism operations and protect U.S. civilians. Meanwhile, the United States is increasing its diplomatic, political and economic engagement with Iraq.
“The things you are doing in this transition period are the things that are going to put the Iraqi people and Iraqi government in a position to sustain the incredibly hard-fought gains that you initially are responsible for,” Biden said.
Just as the U.S. mission changed when the United States ended its combat mission in Iraq on Aug. 31, Biden said, it will change again at the end of 2011, when the U.S. military leaves in accordance with an agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments.
While lauding progress in getting Iraqi security forces “to a point now where they can be in the lead” and “getting better and better every day,” Biden acknowledged that they are likely to continue to need U.S. assistance for some time. He cited training, equipping and maintaining as areas the Iraqis likely could require continued help.
Biden turned emotional as he thanked the service members for the sacrifices they and their comrades, as well as their families, have made in Iraq.
“You are part of an incredibly, incredibly proud tradition,” he said. “And I hope that not only your military expertise wears off on our Iraqi friends. I hope they understand and see –- and I think they do –- the incredible patriotism, the incredible dedication to country, the incredible diversity that we represent: men and women, black and white, Asian, Caucasian, every single mix that exists on Earth, working as one incredible unit to protect the interests of the United States.” Today’s men and women in uniform represent “the greatest warrior class the world has ever created,” the vice president said. “This is not only the best-run, but this is the most powerful, significant military force in the history of mankind. And the world knows that and our citizens know that.”
Biden promised that the United States will continue to live up to its “one true sacred obligation — to prepare and equip those we send into harm’s way and care for them when they come home.”
He wiped tears from his eyes as he described how he and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, visit nonambulatory patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and come away amazed that all they ask for is help getting back to their units.
Biden said Americans recognize and appreciate their military, but that he wished all could see what he does -– “young women and men, not so young sometimes, who don’t ask a thing for all that they’ve done.”
“We owe you more than we could every repay you,” he said.
Biden’s visit to Iraq is his seventh since taking office in January 2009. He traveled to Baghdad from Islamabad, Pakistan, where he and Pakistani leaders focused on their countries’ relationship and joint efforts toward regional peace and stability.
The vice president kicked off his visit to the region earlier this week in Afghanistan, where he met with U.S. and Afghan national and local leaders to assess progress and reinforce the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)