Biden Seeks Thaw Between Iraqi Political Rivals

The two Iraqi leaders vying to become the nation's next prime minister will get personal pleas Sunday from Vice President Joe Biden to end their rivalry that has delayed the seating of a new government as American troops head home.

Biden, the Obama administration's point man on Iraq issues, will discuss the stalled politics in separate meetings with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his chief challenger, former premier Ayad Allawi.

Iraqi politicians have been bickering since the March 7 parliamentary election that left the country without a clear winner about who should have the right to form the next government. Al-Maliki and Allawi largely have been driving the delays as each tries to outmaneuver the other for a majority share of support in parliament.

The Shiite prime minister's State of Law coalition narrowly lost out to Allawi's Sunni-backed Iraqiya alliance during the election, 89 seats to 91 seats. But both fell far short of the 163-seat majority needed to govern outright.

Al-Maliki's appeared to gain an advantage after the election by joining forces with the Iranian-backed Iraqi National Alliance to form a super-Shiite coalition. But even that partnership has been stalled by its inability to decide who will be its pick for the prime minister post.

Biden was to meet early Sunday afternoon with Allawi, and later with al-Maliki. It was not clear if he would discuss the private meetings later with the media.

But aides said late Saturday that the vice president believes that the new government - whoever becomes prime minister - must represent all sides to avoid touching off sectarian tensions that could destabilize Iraq.

The aides, speaking on condition of anonymity to more candidly discuss Biden's thinking, said it appears that Iraqi leaders also agree on potential risks of a government that alienates any of the competing political factions.

Charles Dunne, an Iraq expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said Biden's visit is a clear sign of "a new, more activist phase of American diplomacy in the election standoff."

"There is a general worry that the United States is focusing on withdrawal and disengaging politically," said Dunne, who worked on the National Security Council and at the Pentagon during the administration of former President George W. Bush. "This makes (Iraqis) worry about their own ability to manage these political conflicts - and about the future of Iraqi democracy itself."

Biden arrived in Baghdad on Saturday evening for the long July Fourth weekend, his second visit to Iraq so far this year, and the fifth since he was elected vice president in 2008.

He also will meet with U.S. troops in a ceremony during which a number of soldiers who have been serving with the U.S. military will be sworn in as American citizens.

This program aired on July 4, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.


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