After war in Iraq, Biden heralds new era of US involvement
Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise trip to Baghdad yesterday to honor US sacrifices in the war in Iraq.
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Republicans on the campaign trail and in Congress have criticized Obama for withdrawing all US troops from Iraq and failing to secure an agreement with Maliki to keep some U.S. forces in the country to help assure that it remains relatively stable. A sticking point for the administration was the Iraqi government's refusal to give US troops immunity from prosecution. Maliki is scheduled to meet with Obama at the White House on Dec. 12.Skip to next paragraph
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A new phase of US involvement
Analysts noted that the withdrawal of US forces doesn't end American involvement in Iraq, given its considerable oil resources and location: next to Iran.
"The timing is not so much dictated by the fact we're going to leave at the end of the year, but the fact that we do not have anything like the civil or military relationship we'd hoped to build a year ago," said Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a center-right think tank. "We need to see if we can find a better relationship and one that will do a better job of containing Iran and trying to bring political and security stability to the country."
Cordesman said he didn't expect any dramatic breakthrough from Biden's visit, but he said that with senior Iranian officials visiting Iraq, and Iraqi officials visiting Iran, "the last thing on Earth you want to do is leave a power vacuum in this area."
"We can say in a way that the war has ended, but our relationship with Iraq hasn't," Cordesman said.
Fears of a resurgence of violence
The US ended its combat mission in Iraq on Aug. 31, 2010, and drew down to fewer than 50,000 troops from about 144,000 in January 2009. The administration maintains that violence in Iraq has remained at its lowest level since 2003, though some analysts fear a resurgence of violence after US troops withdraw.
In a statement, the White House said that Obama and Maliki "agreed that it was in the best interests of both the United States and Iraq to draw down US forces by the end of 2011 and embark on a new phase in our relationship – a long-term strategic partnership across a range of sectors."
The statement said that as part of a US-Iraq agreement, the two countries are "deepening our cooperation on politics and diplomacy; trade and finance; energy; services, technology, the environment, and transportation; law enforcement and the judiciary; and defense and security."
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