Biden Visits Iraq to Mark Operation New Dawn

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2010 — While Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma trav­els today to Fort Bliss, Texas, and lat­er gives an Oval Office address mark­ing the end of com­bat oper­a­tions in Iraq, Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden is in Iraq meet­ing with U.S. and Iraqi lead­ers about the new U.S. mis­sion there.

While offer­ing reas­sur­ance to the Iraqis as Oper­a­tion New Dawn begins tomor­row that the Unit­ed States remains a vig­i­lant part­ner, Biden also is expect­ed to encour­age Iraq’s polit­i­cal lead­ers to move for­ward in form­ing the cen­tral gov­ern­ment con­sid­ered crit­i­cal to the country’s long-term suc­cess. Biden arrived in Bagh­dad yes­ter­day, meet­ing with Army Gen. Ray­mond T. Odier­no, com­man­der of U.S. Forces Iraq; Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who will replace him fol­low­ing tomorrow’s change of com­mand cer­e­mo­ny; and Army Gen. James N. Mat­tis, com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand.

The vice pres­i­dent also met with Ambas­sador James F. Jef­frey, the for­mer ambas­sador to Turkey who assumed the top diplo­mat­ic post in Iraq ear­li­er this month.

Today, Biden is slat­ed to meet with Iraqi Pres­i­dent Jalal Tal­a­bani, Vice Pres­i­dent Tariq al-Hashi­mi, Vice Pres­i­dent Adil Abd al-Mah­di, Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Mali­ki and oth­er polit­i­cal lead­ers.

Biden will give them a pre­view of the speech Oba­ma will deliv­er tonight from the White House, rein­forc­ing that the Unit­ed States is “mak­ing good on our com­mit­ment to end the war in Iraq respon­si­bly and to help build a sta­ble, self-reliant and sov­er­eign Iraq,” Antony Blinken, the vice president’s nation­al secu­ri­ty advi­sor, said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence yes­ter­day at the U.S. embassy in Bagh­dad.

The vice pres­i­dent also will under­score the Unit­ed States’ com­mit­ment to an ongo­ing rela­tion­ship with Iraq, Blinken said.

“We’re not dis­en­gag­ing from Iraq,” he said. “The nature of our engage­ment is chang­ing with this change in mis­sion from a mil­i­tary lead to a civil­ian lead.”

With just under 50,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, the Unit­ed States is ramp­ing up its engage­ment on the diplo­mat­ic, polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic and cul­tur­al fronts, Blinken said. “We are deter­mined to build a long-term part­ner­ship with the gov­ern­ment of Iraq and with the Iraqi peo­ple,” he said, empha­siz­ing the need for Iraq to take the steps need­ed to form its gov­ern­ment. “To build a part­ner­ship, you need a part­ner,” he added.

Iraq’s slow­ness in putting the gov­ern­ment in place was­n’t unex­pect­ed, Blinken said, par­tic­u­lar­ly in light of the close elec­tion results. But he empha­sized the risk of “a real­ly dan­ger­ous vac­u­um devel­op­ing” if the cur­rent polit­i­cal stale­mate does­n’t end soon.

“We sense some frus­tra­tion among Iraqis that this process is now tak­ing a con­sid­er­able amount of time,” Blinken said.

And with­out an elect­ed gov­ern­ment in place, Iraq will have dif­fi­cul­ty deal­ing with the broad­er polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic and secu­ri­ty issues con­fronting the coun­try, Blinken said.

“All of these big, out­stand­ing issues require the elect­ed gov­ern­ment,” he said.

Blinken empha­sized that the Unit­ed States rec­og­nizes that the Iraqis are respon­si­ble for the make­up of their gov­ern­ment.

“This is up to the Iraqi peo­ple,” he said. “It’s not our deci­sion, but we would hope that the gov­ern­ment that results will include in its lead­er­ship posi­tions par­ties and coali­tions that are inter­est­ed in build­ing a long-term part­ner­ship with the Unit­ed States.”

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

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