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Biden's Iraq visit aims to show continued U.S. commitment

BAGHDAD - Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Baghdad yesterday for the Fourth of July amid a political deadlock nearly four months after Iraq's national election.

Biden arrived as many question whether the U.S. policy in Iraq is adrift, worried that with a shift of attention toward the war in Afghanistan, and so much attention on the planned drawdown and ultimate withdrawal of U.S. troops, the United States is focused only on its exit - not the success of a still very shaky democracy in Iraq.

"A distant policy in this country is deemed as a weakness and also deemed as a failure," said Fawzi Hariri, Iraq's minister of industry. "It gives the wrong message to Syria and Iran, and it will give the wrong message to the Taliban."

This was Biden's fourth trip to Iraq as vice president, and the visit may be a signal to Iraq the U.S. administration is still engaged here. A White House statement said Biden would celebrate the holiday with the troops, "reaffirm" the U.S. "long-term commitment" to Iraq and discuss recent developments.

Today, Biden will meet with former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who are both vying for Iraq's top job. Each will have an hour with the vice president.

Biden said he was "optimistic" about the formation of the Iraqi government.

Allawi's Iraqiya bloc won a plurality, with a razor-thin lead over Maliki's bloc. Some say the two are nearing a deal to break the deadlock, but others say without more U.S. pressure neither may compromise enough.

Monday, Biden will meet with president Jalal Talabani and the head of the religious Shia party.

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