Biden Trip Marks New Alliance with Iraq

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2011 — Troops may be leav­ing Iraq by year’s end, but meet­ings yes­ter­day between Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden and Iraqi lead­ers promise con­tin­u­ing civil­ian engage­ment between the two sov­er­eign nations, a senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial said in Bagh­dad.

Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden talks with troops after a cer­e­mo­ny at Vic­to­ry Base Com­plex, Iraq, Dec. 1, 2011. The cer­e­mo­ny com­mem­o­rat­ed the sac­ri­fices and accom­plish­ments of U.S. and Iraqi ser­vice mem­bers.
U.S. Air Force pho­to by Mas­ter Sgt. Cecilio Ricar­do
Click to enlarge

After co-chair­ing a meet­ing of the U.S.-Iraq High­er Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee with Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Mali­ki, Biden held sep­a­rate meet­ings with Mali­ki, Pres­i­dent Jalal Tal­a­bani and Speak­er Osama al-Nujaifi. “They cov­ered a broad array of issues in these meet­ings, includ­ing the tran­si­tion to a civil­ian lead in Iraq for the Unit­ed States [and] the secu­ri­ty rela­tion­ship going for­ward,” the offi­cial told jour­nal­ists trav­el­ing with the vice pres­i­dent.

“They talked about the res­o­lu­tion of some of Iraq’s remain­ing inter­na­tion­al issues,” he added, includ­ing oblig­a­tions under Chap­ter 7 of the Char­ter of the Unit­ed Nations placed on Iraq after its 1990 inva­sion of and war with Kuwait, and its cur­rent rela­tion­ship with Kuwait.

Biden and the Iraqi lead­ers, the offi­cial said, also dis­cussed region­al issues, includ­ing those involv­ing Syr­ia, Turkey and Iran.

On the top­ic of Iran, the vice pres­i­dent “made clear some­thing that we’ve made clear repeat­ed­ly, which is, one, we ful­ly expect Iraq to have a rela­tion­ship with Iran,” the offi­cial said.

“There’s a long bor­der and a long his­to­ry [between the coun­tries],” the offi­cial added, “and that is ful­ly under­stood. But what is not accept­able and not under­stood would be to in any way allow Iran to use our pres­ence in Iraq as a tar­get.”

The Unit­ed States has com­mit­ted in the past not to use Iraq as a stag­ing ground to act against oth­er coun­tries, he said, and that includes Iran.

“Rec­i­p­ro­cal­ly,” he added, “it is ful­ly our expec­ta­tion that the gov­ern­ment of Iraq not allow Iraq to be used as an area to tar­get U.S. per­son­nel.”

Biden and the Iraqi lead­ers also dis­cussed Arab-Kurd rela­tions, inter­nal secu­ri­ty — espe­cial­ly the need to keep pres­sure on vio­lent extrem­ist groups — and Maliki’s vis­it in Wash­ing­ton with Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma lat­er this month.

“All of this is very pow­er­ful evi­dence that the Unit­ed States is not dis­en­gag­ing from Iraq,” the offi­cial said. “Rather, the nature of our engage­ment is chang­ing from what has been a mil­i­tary lead to a civil­ian lead.”

The Unit­ed States has “moved, as the vice pres­i­dent put it, from the secu­ri­ty agree­ment that gov­erned our mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in Iraq to the strate­gic frame­work agree­ment, which is the basis for this com­pre­hen­sive new rela­tion­ship.”

As is the case at oth­er embassies around the world, the offi­cial added, an Office of Secu­ri­ty Coop­er­a­tion has been estab­lished in Iraq to help Iraqis acquire and then learn how to use mil­i­tary equip­ment they buy from the Unit­ed States.

In Iraq, that office will include 157 peo­ple assigned to the U.S. embassy and under the author­i­ty of the ambas­sador, he said, and some who might come in on indi­vid­ual con­tracts for two or three months at a time to help the Iraqis train on U.S. equip­ment.

“What we’re talk­ing about going for­ward as pos­si­bil­i­ties of train­ing beyond the Office of Secu­ri­ty Coop­er­a­tion includes things like … doing ongo­ing train­ing of Iraqis out­side of Iraq in oth­er coun­tries [and] inte­grat­ing Iraqis into region­al exer­cis­es,” the offi­cial added.

Today at Al Faw Palace at Camp Vic­to­ry, Iraq, Biden spoke at an event host­ed by the Iraqi gov­ern­ment and held to hon­or the sac­ri­fices of U.S. and Iraqi forces. “His­to­ry will record that the lib­er­a­tion of our coun­try was not only an impor­tant turn­ing point in Iraq, but it was an impor­tant begin­ning for the region,” Tal­ibani said, refer­ring to events of the Arab Spring.

Mali­ki thanked for­mer Pres­i­dent George W. Bush for sign­ing the U.S.-Iraq sta­tus of forces agree­ment, which estab­lished the para­me­ters for U.S. troop with­draw­al from Iraq. He also thanked Oba­ma for see­ing the agree­ment through.

“Because of you and the work those of you here have done, we are now able to end this war,” Biden said, adding that the Iraqi peo­ple have not and will not yield again to any kind of exter­nal dom­i­na­tion.

Biden was pre­sent­ed with a medal called a “shield of com­mit­ment,” as were Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, com­mand­ing gen­er­al of U.S. Forces Iraq, Jef­frey D. Felt­man, assis­tant sec­re­tary of state for near east­ern affairs, and ambas­sadors from oth­er coun­tries who field­ed coali­tion forces.

After the cer­e­mo­ny, Biden met pri­vate­ly with troops for pho­tos before trav­el­ing to Erbil in north­ern Iraq, 50 miles east of Mosul.

There Biden met with Kur­dish Region­al Gov­ern­ment Pres­i­dent Masoud Barzani at the official’s cer­e­mo­ni­al res­i­dence before board­ing his air­craft for Ankara, Turkey, the first stop on a four-day trip to Turkey and Greece.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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