US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Baghdad on a surprise visit on Tuesday, during which he is due to meet top Iraqi officials, as American troops depart Iraq ahead of a year-end deadline.
Biden was met at the airport by US ambassador James Jeffrey and General Lloyd Austin, the commander of United States Forces – Iraq(USF-I), an AFP photographer said.
He then boarded a helicopter to the US embassy in Baghdad, a reporter travelling with him said.
Biden’s visit comes after a bloody seven days for Iraq, during which at least 61 people were killed in a wave of attacks.
The White House said that while in Iraq, “the vice president will co-chair a meeting of the US-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee. He will also meet with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, (and) Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi.”
“We are deepening our cooperation on politics and diplomacy; trade and finance; energy; services, technology, the environment, and transportation; law enforcement and the judiciary; and defence and security,” the White House said in a statement.
“This week’s meeting of the Higher Coordinating Committee in Baghdad will address and enhance our joint efforts on each of these important policy areas,” it said.
“The vice president will also participate in, and give remarks at, an event to commemorate the sacrifices and accomplishments of US and Iraqi troops.”
It is Biden’s eighth visit to Iraq since his election as vice president.
The trip had not been previously announced by the White House, but Biden has been US President Barack Obama’s point man in overseeing the withdrawal of all US troops from the country by the end of this year.
After Iraq he will travel to Turkey and to Greece, in a bid to press leaders on US preoccupations in the Middle East, including the crackdown in Syria, and in Europe, amid fears of a eurozone debt crisis.
According to his publicised schedule, Biden’s next events after Iraq begin in Ankara on Friday, when he is due to meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul.
The next day, he will travel to Istanbul to attend a global Entrepreneurship summit, a follow-on event from one hosted by Obama in April 2010 to connect US business interests and foundations with the Muslim world.
Obama has spent considerable political capital in fostering better relations with Turkey, which the United States sees as a crucial player in the Middle East and the wider region, including Afghanistan and the Gulf.
Biden will fly to Athens on Monday for talks with Greek officials and party leaders.
Obama on October 21 announced that US troops would leave Iraq by the end of 2011, bringing to a close an almost nine-year war that has left thousands of US soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead, and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
About 13,800 US soldiers are still in the country, and seven US bases remain to be handed over, according to USF-I spokesman Major General Jeffrey Buchanan.