In an unscheduled visit to Iraq ahead of his trip to Turkey, US Vice President Joe Biden says the US and Iraq are embarking on a new phase in their relationship after Washington decided to withdraw all troops in one month. ‘Our partnership will continue, it will not continue in Iraq but in this region,’ says Biden.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said during a surprise visit to Iraq the completion of the U.S. troop withdrawal by the end of the year will start a new phase in U.S.-Iraqi relations.
“We are embarking on a new … and a comprehensive relationship between the United States and Iraq as sovereign partners,” Biden said after meeting with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials.
The remaining 13,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are scheduled to leave by the end December when a bilateral security pact expires, nearly nine years after the U.S. invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced last month that U.S. troops would come home at the end of the year as scheduled after talks to keep a small number of American soldiers in Iraq as trainers fell apart over the issue of immunity. U.S. officials had asked for around 3,000 troops to stay in Iraq, but Maliki’s government did not have the political capital to push an agreement on immunity through parliament.
Seeking to counter skepticism about why the U.S. will still have such a large presence in Iraq, which will hold the largest American Embassy in the world, Biden said the U.S. needed to have experts in a wide range of areas “on hand, in country,” the Associated Press reported. The U.S. will also have thousands of diplomatic personnel and security contractors to protect the embassy’s facilities in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Irbil and Basra.
Around 200 U.S. trainers will be attached to the embassy’s Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq and 700 civilian trainers will help Iraqi forces train on new U.S. military hardware they have purchased like F-16 fighters and Abrams tanks. “No doubt, U.S. forces have a role in providing training for Iraqi forces,” Maliki said at the end of the meeting of a bilateral coordination committee, Reuters reported. “The relationship we establish today is based on the will of two countries.”
Biden is expected to arrive in Turkey today and will hold talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül. Talks will focus on ways of expanding trade, cooperation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the uprisings in Syria and other Arab nations. Biden’s agenda will also cover Turkey’s troubled ties with Israel and Armenia, the Cyprus issue and the situation in Afghanistan.