Vice President Joe Biden spent the Fourth of July in Baghdad, where he addressed some of the 80,000 U.S. soldiers still in the country and met with Iraqi political leaders to discuss the electoral stalemate in which the Iraqi national government has been stuck for four months. Neither current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki nor former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has secured a sufficient parliamentary majority to establish the government's leadership and determine who will be prime minister. Here are the challenges that Biden confronted in his trip and that the U.S. and Iraq, going forward, must contend with.
- Push to Resolve Dispute Before Ramadan The Associated Press' Lara Jakes writes, "Top Obama administration officials have been reluctant to visit Iraq since its deadlocked March election failed to produce a clear winner. Biden's trip may signal the U.S. is stepping up its efforts to hammer out an agreement among Iraqi political rivals and get a new government in place as soon as possible. ... Parliament has only about a month to end the impasse before the start of Ramadan in August, when little official business gets done in the Arab world. Adding to the urgency, all but 50,000 U.S. troops are set to leave Iraq by the end of August in a test of whether the fledgling democracy's security forces are ready to protect its people from insurgents and other terror threats."
- Demonstrating Long-Term U.S. Interest in Iraq The New York Times' Tim Arango writes, "The visit is likely to be seen by some through the prism of American re-engagement in Iraq, and as an answer to critics who say that the Obama administration has shown a lack of focus in setting policy for the United States' future relationship with this country. ... Several [Iraqi] political leaders welcomed his visit, expressing hope that more robust American diplomacy could resolve Iraq's political paralysis.
- Can Biden Persuade Maliki to Compromise? The pseudonymous IraqPundit wonders, "Nouri Al Maliki continues to fight to keep his position as prime minister. The other groups in the Shiite list have made it clear they do not support his quest to keep his job. Many people here say Maliki figures if he drags this out, other politicians will give up and tell him he can stay prime minister. Who knows? Maybe Biden really can persuade them to reach an agreement."
- Don't Antagonize Sadrists With Delayed Withdrawal Liberal blogger Juan Cole urges the U.S. to hold to its Status of Force Agreement (SOFA), which schedules the withdrawal. "While the SOFA could be tinkered with, there are powerful forces working against that outcome. The Sadrists, fundamentalist Shiites who follow cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, may well be kingmakers of the new government, and they are dead set against any change to the SOFA timetables. The Sadrists are highly politically networked and their relative success in the March 7 parliamentary elections attests to their political strength even today. They could prove spoilers of any attempt by the US to drag its feet on withdrawal, since they can put thousands of protesters and hundreds of guerrillas in the street."
- Biden: Iraqi Parliamentarians Like U.S. Founders The New York Times' Tim Arango reports:
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. drew an analogy to the signers of the Declaration of Independence on Sunday in exhorting Iraqi leaders to end the paralysis that has stalled the formation of a government since the parliamentary elections four months ago.
"When they signed that declaration, many of them did not even like one another," Mr. Biden, making his fourth trip to Baghdad as vice president, told a group of Iraqi leaders at a Fourth of July reception at the residence of the United States ambassador, Christopher R. Hill. "My plea to you is to continue what you started," he said.