Hello from Camp Victory just outside of Baghdad. I landed about an hour ago on Vice President Biden’s C-17 for what will be the most extensive visit to Iraq by a president or vice president since the war began in 2003.
“This is the moment,” he told us, “we have to make sure the Iraqis don’t take their eyes off the ultimate prize.”
He then explained the latest job President Obama has given him. A few weeks ago he was talking to the president about the challenges Iraq would face after US troops began to withdraw from Iraqi cities on June 30th and what the US needed to do about it. The president got right the point, Biden said, “Quote: Joe, go do it.”
Do what exactly?
“Help the Iraqis resolve what they have to resolve.”
That means matching the reduction of violence since the surge began with political progress now that military withdrawal is beginning.
Biden said he would build on his relationships to help the Iraqis “get to yes” on the big issues still bedeviling their country: providing basic services, resolving the conflict between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurds in the North, reducing corruption and passing an oil law to ensure all Iraqis get a share of the country’s wealth.
“I know all these guys, I have a relationship with them. They have no doubt about my role representing the White House, “ Biden told me.
Biden also did what he could to dispel the notion that he was big-footing the rest of the foreign policy team.
“I am not out to be the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense or the National Security Advisor,” he said. Biden insisted he didn’t ask for this job and that he would only get involved when necessary. “I’m here to close on things.”
This is Biden’s second trip to Iraq this year but his first as vice president. Several more are likely to come.
He was greeted upon landing by Gen. Ray Odierno, commanding general of Multi-National Forces in Iraq, and he will meet with several top Iraqis over the next two days including President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Speaker of the Council of Representatives Ayad al-Samarrai.
He was guardedly optimistic about what could be achieved.
So far, “folks haven’t taken the bait” on attempts to reignite widespread sectarian violence, he said.
But Biden knows that Iraqi patience will evaporate quickly if these big political disagreements aren’t bridged. “We’re down to the wire now.”
More to come over the next couple of days … plus, I’ll have an exclusive interview with Vice President Biden Sunday on “This Week.”