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Iraq's vice president says Iraq should call on US for security help

Adel Abdul Mahdi says in an interview with the Monitor that political reluctance to ask US troops for security support should be reconsidered.

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Mr. Biden is expected to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan to meet with Kurdish leaders this week.

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A raging debate among Iraqi politicians is over how much influence the US should continue to exert on policy matters. Biden's last visit here sparked tension when he privately told senior Iraqi officials that the US was losing patience with Iraq's failure to follow through on key policies.

In addition to areas claimed by both Kurds and Arabs, issues such as an oil law and a new election law have been stalled by political wrangling.

Talk to Iran

Abdul Mahdi, whose party was founded by Iraqi exiles in Iran in the 1980s as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said he believes that dialogue between the United States and Iran would lessen Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs, including the flow of fighters and weapons across the border – something that has recently lessened but is still of concern to Iraqi and US officials.

"Of course – I think the whole environment will be better… better relations, a dialogue, between the US and Iran will be very useful to Iraq – otherwise we will see interference from both sides," he said.

Iraq is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in January and US officials say a relatively peaceful vote with more participation by Sunni parties than in the 2005 elections is crucial to building the stability Iraq needs for US forces to continue to withdraw.

Last month, SIIC and supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, members of the Shiite-led coalition that brought Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to power, announced a new alliance that excluded Maliki and his Dawa party – the other main Shiite player.

Abdul Mahdi says his coalition is still holding the door open for Maliki if he wants to join them and is working toward a wider alliance, including talks with Ayad Allawi, the former US-installed interim prime minister, and other secular figures.

Abdul Mahdi, a French-educated economist, says a reported demand from Maliki that he lead the alliance by controlling 51 percent of the slate's candidates was "unacceptable."

"Maliki will have his chance, others will have their chances, so joining the coalition with balanced rates would be the acceptable equation – otherwise what is the point of having a coalition?" he asked.

He said that, despite Iraq's security setbacks and political turmoil, which include the arrest of one of his guards on robbery and murder charges and a public spat with the Interior minister, there should be no serious concern that the country is falling apart.

"Iraq will hold together," he says. "We're seeing real momentum in Iraq, which is really tremendous. It is like a volcano … more and more people are joining the political process, even with all the difficulties we have, and this is amazing."

How is the culture of public criticism of government developing in Iraq's neighbors ?

For full transcript, see Interview: Iraqi VP Adel Abdul Mahdi