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Biden Meets Iraqi PM To Discuss U.S. Troop Presence

U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden (left) meets with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden (left) meets with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden has met Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad during a trip to discuss the future presence of 140,000 U.S. troops.

Biden arrived on January 12 in Iraq, where the withdrawal of U.S. forces is seen as a major challenge facing the incoming U.S. administration. He first met President Jalal Talabani and then Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi.

Al-Maliki's office said it could not yet divulge details of his talks with the Delaware senator, whose visit was in his capacity as long-time chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Talks with al-Mahdi and other officials have so far focused on U.S. troop withdrawals and bilateral trade and other ties.

A statement from Deputy Prime Minister Rafie al-Esawi's office said al-Esawi had also met Biden on January 13 and "discussed the American military presence in light of the security pact signed between Iraqi and American governments."

As violence in Iraq falls to lows rarely seen since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, U.S. forces are increasingly taking a back seat to Iraqi troops under a new bilateral security deal that took effect at the beginning of this year.

That pact calls for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraqi cities by the middle of this year and for all troops to withdraw by the end of 2011. The outgoing Bush administration negotiated it, but is compatible with President-elect Barack Obama's plan to withdraw combat forces by mid-2010.

Biden's visit came at the end of a tour including stops in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Obama wants to send more troops as he withdraws from Iraq.

It coincided with a wave of deadly bomb attacks across the capital that mainly struck Iraqi security forces, killing at least seven people and wounding more than 30, a reminder of simmering instability despite better security.

Biden is one of the few members of the U.S. Senate with a high profile in Iraq, where he is known as author of a 2006 plan to split it into self-ruled Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurdish enclaves.

That plan angered many Iraqi politicians, and was quietly put on the back burner as violence ebbed. Biden voted for the 2003 invasion of Iraq but later became a harsh critic of the protracted war and the way President George W. Bush executed it.