London/ Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- The statements of Iraqi political officials about US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Baghdad, where he arrived the day before yesterday, reflected the intense struggles raging between the Iraqi political blocs for power. While government sources denied that Biden’s visit was connected in any way with the issue of forming the government, the other political blocs asserted that the US Vice President’s presence in Baghdad at this specific time was not for the purpose of seeing off his soldiers returning home but “for exerting pressures on the Iraqi political blocs to speed up the formation of the government” according to an assertion to Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday by a source in the Iraqi National Alliance [INA].
Tony Blinken, Biden’s national security adviser, admitted that the US Vice President’s visit “comes at a time when Iraqi politicians are continuing their quarrel over forming a new government five months after the elections on 7 March.” He pointed out that “forming a new government is vital because the caretaker government in Baghdad is not a permanent solution”, the “New York Times” cited him as saying.
However, Muhammad Allawi, a leading Al-Iraqiya List figure, called Biden’s meeting with Al-Iraqiya leader Iyad Allawi successful and told Asharq Al-Awsat by telephone from Baghdad yesterday that “the US Vice President did not raise the name of Al-Maliki as prime minister of the next government. This is in our opinion a major development since Biden did not object at the previous meeting to letting Al-Maliki stay as prime minister of the next government.” He pointed out that the “US stand prefers an alliance between Al-Iraqiya and the State of Law Coalition [SLC] but Al-Maliki’s insistence on remaining prime minister is an obstacle in the way of achieving this proposal, particularly as Al-Iraqiya informed Biden of its rejection of having the outgoing prime minister nominated for a second term.”
Allawi went on to say: “Biden proposed that Al-Iraqiya goes ahead with its talks with the INA if these talks were successful” and noted that the US Vice President said “I read the reports (which Asharq Al-Awsat published exclusively yesterday) about an imminent agreement between Al-Iraqiya and the INA to share the prime minister’s post between Allawi and Adel Abdel Mahdi. If there are such steps, then they are good. You have strong points since the elections entitlement is yours.”
On his part, Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi said “Vice President Biden stressed that his country does not back a specific prime minister and welcomes what the political forces agree upon for leading a national partnership government capable of leading the country in a democratic and partnership spirit.”
The statements of the “SLC” leaders about Biden’s visit to Baghdad appeared contradictory. Even though the statement issued by Al-Maliki’s government stressed that the talks between him and Biden revolved around forming the next Iraqi government, Ali al-Dabbagh, the government’s official spokesman and SLC member, denied to Asharq Al-Awsat that “Biden has come carrying scenarios for resolving the issue of forming the government” and stressed that “he did not touch on this issue because it is an Iraqi affair and Biden is eager not to interfere in all its details.”