US Vice President Joe Biden on surprise visit to Iraq

US Vice President Joe Biden held talks in Baghdad on Thursday during an unannounced visit to Iraq, whose leadership has been locked in a protracted political crisis even as its forces battle jihadists.

PTI| Updated: Apr 29, 2016, 02:03 AM IST

Baghdad: US Vice President Joe Biden held talks in Baghdad on Thursday during an unannounced visit to Iraq, whose leadership has been locked in a protracted political crisis even as its forces battle jihadists.

"The vice president has arrived in Iraq for meetings with (the) Iraqi leadership focused on encouraging Iraqi national unity and continued momentum in the fight against ISIL," his office said, using an acronym for the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.

Biden met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi shortly after stepping off the C-17 military transport plane that flew him to Baghdad.

Abadi and Biden discussed political, security and economic developments, the premier's office said.

Biden's visit comes at a time of political crisis that has seen Iraq's fractious political class squabble over Abadi's efforts to replace the current government of party-affiliated ministers with a cabinet of technocrats.

Political turmoil surrounding Abadi's US-backed reform drive has sparked chaos in parliament, with lawmakers brawling in the chamber, staging a sit-in and throwing water bottles towards the premier.

Thousands of supporters of prominent Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have also protested in recent days outside the fortified "Green Zone" -- where Biden and Abadi met today -- ostensibly to lend mass support to the reform process.

The political shambles has further discredited politicians who are widely seen as corrupt and pursuing only the interests of their parties, clans or sects.

A US administration official travelling with Biden praised Abadi, whom many, including within his own party, have criticised as a weak leader.

He said that Abadi "has been a very effective prime minister. He's really pulled the country together."

"The vice president will also be discussing steps the international community can take to promote Iraq's economic stability and further regional cooperation," the statement from Biden's office said.

Baghdad is grappling with a damaging budget crunch, caused largely by the drop in the price of oil, which accounts for more than 90 percent of Iraq's revenue.

The United States heads an international coalition of countries providing Iraq with arms, military training and a limited number of combat forces to help it battle IS, which overran large areas in 2014.

US forces have in recent weeks further deepened their involvement by setting up a base south of Mosul, which is Iraq's second city and the jihadists' main hub in the country.