Baghdad: US Vice President Joe Biden met
today with the two men vying to lead Iraq after celebrating
Independence Day with American troops at a palace of former
dictator Saddam Hussein.
Biden held an hour of talks with former premier Iyad
Allawi, who narrowly beat incumbent Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki into second place in Iraq`s March 7 general election
which has yet to usher in a new government.
He then met with Maliki ahead of talks tomorrow with
President Jalal Talabani.
The refusal of Maliki or Allawi to quit the tussle for
the Prime Minister`s post has alarmed Washington as it aims to
complete the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq by the
end of August.
Allawi, a Shiite, insists as the election`s victor that
he has the right to become premier, especially as his Iraqiya
coalition had strong backing in Sunni-dominated provinces.
He has also warned that a failure to see Sunni voters`
interests represented in the new government could reignite the
sectarian violence that saw tens of thousands killed in the
wake of the 2003 US-led invasion.
Meanwhile, the firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr
called on Iraqi leaders not to be swayed by the United States
in their efforts to resolve the political deadlock.
"I advise Allawi and Maliki not to allow the occupier to
intervene," said Sadr, whose militia, the Mahdi Army, has
repeatedly clashed with US forces since the invasion.
"The talks should ensure the Iraqi agenda, not the
American agenda," the Iran-based cleric said in a statement
issued from his office in the central holy city of Najaf.
Biden himself said on his arrival yesterday he was
"extremely optimistic" that Iraq`s politicians could resolve
their differences despite a four-month impasse since the
"The parties are all talking. I remain extremely
optimistic about a government being formed here that will be
representative," he told reporters yesterday.
A senior US administration official travelling with Biden
said he was in Baghdad "to listen to the Iraqis, to get a
sense from them of where they are and where they think things
"We don`t have a slate of candidates, we don`t have
favourites. This is up to the Iraqis," he stressed, on
condition of anonymity, while reiterating US support for "an
inclusive government that brings in all of the major players."
Speaking earlier to soldiers in the rotunda of Al-Fao
Palace, a jewel in the era of the ousted Iraqi president that
is now part of US military base Camp Victory, just north of
Baghdad, an upbeat Biden relished the symbolism.