Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday for a surprise visit to mark the close of the U.S. war in Iraq as troops prepare to return home by the end of the year.
Biden’s visit is his eighth since he was elected vice president in 2008 and comes as the Obama administration works to chart a course for its post-war relationship with the government it helped install.
“It’s good to be back for this purpose,” the vice president said as reporters were brought into a meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, where he sat alongside Ambassador James Jeffrey and Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. “It’s good to be back.”
Biden is set to meet with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and other political leaders, the White House said. Biden’s stop in Iraq comes at the start of a trip to Turkey and Greece for meetings with leaders there, including Greece’s new prime minister, Lucas Papademos.
There are about 14,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, and Biden will speak to some of them at an event to commemorate the sacrifices of U.S. and Iraqi troops.
The withdrawal of American forces comes after U.S. and Iraqi officials were unable to reach a deal earlier this year to keep a small number of troops in the country into 2012 who would continue to have immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law.