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Biden visits Iraq to help facilitate election process

| Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009

BAGHDAD — Amid a brief rumble of mortar fire, Vice President Joe Biden arrived here Tuesday for meetings with U.S. and Iraqi officials at a time when many Iraqis are pushing for a quick U.S. departure after more than six years of war.

Touching down in a C-17 cargo plane in a hot dusk, Biden made his way by helicopter to the enormous new U.S. Embassy, where he met Gen. Ray Odierno and Ambassador Christopher Hill, the top U.S. military and diplomatic officials here.

In brief remarks afterward, Biden said he is here as an "interlocutor" to help Iraqi leaders resolve a number of pressing political issues, chief among them reaching agreement on a law establishing the rules for the scheduled January general election.

"They are ultimately all Iraqi decisions," Biden said.

Biden is running point on Iraq in the Obama administration, and this visit is his second in two months.

The Obama administration is on a glide path toward departing Iraq by the end of 2011, and U.S. troops have already left major urban areas to the protection of Iraqi security forces, whose ability to maintain the relative peace is uncertain.

The challenge for U.S. diplomatic and military officials is managing the withdrawal to ensure that it does not destabilize the country's still-halting political process or leave security vacuums where violence could resume.

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