By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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.”