US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Iraq on a surprise visit aimed at helping Iraqi leaders resolve a political crisis. It is hindering the country's efforts to defeat the self-declared 'Islamic State.'
The US vice president arrived in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Thursday and was expected to hold talks with the country's leadership.
Experts say the surprise visit was a sign that Washington continued to support Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's embattled government.
Increasing demands for political reforms have paralyzed the government that is already struggling to deal with extremist violence and a troubled economy.
Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, a powerful Shiite cleric, are demanding an end to corruption and mismanagement in the conflict-torn country. The protesters are calling for a government run by technocrats, and for Shiite militias to be brought into ministries.
On Tuesday, the Iraqi parliament approved six new cabinet members nominated by PM al-Abadi as a gesture to its opponents.
US frets over IS
But the US is concerned that the political crisis in Iraq might shift the government's focus from a protracted battle against Islamists. Despite more US troops on Iraqi soil, the Iraqi government has not been able to defeat the militant IS group.
"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," a statement from Biden's office said, using an acronym for IS.
"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 added.
Experts say that US President Barack Obama, who has publicly backed al-Abadi's government, wants an end to the political crisis in Iraq and to increase efforts to battle IS before his presidential term ends.
shs/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)