Al-Maliki is under pressure not to extend the US military’s presence in Iraq beyond the end of 2011 [AFP]
At least two people have been killed in bomb blasts in Iraq, shortly after the US vice-president arrived in the capital for talks about the future of American troops there.
Three separate explosions shook the capital, Baghdad, on Thursday, Iraqi interior ministry officials said.
One person was killed and at least two others wounded in the first attack near a Shia Muslim mosque in the Karrada neighbourhood, while a roadside bomb killed one civilian and wounded four others near a Sunni mosque elsewhere in central Baghdad.
At least four people were wounded in the third explosion near a Sunni mosque in Adhamiya, in the capital’s north.
The violence erupted hours after Joe Biden, the US vice-president, flew into Iraq on an unnannounced visit.
He met early on Thursday with General Lloyd Austin and James Jeffrey, the US ambassador, at the American embassy in Baghdad.
Biden’s trip was the first by a high-level US official since Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, was re-appointed for a second term following Iraq’s approval of a new cabinet last month.
“I’m here to help the Iraqis celebrate the progress they’ve made. They’ve formed a government and that’s a good thing,” Biden said. “They have got a long way to go.”
Withdrawing US troops
Plans to withdraw up to 50,000 US troops still remaining in Iraq were likely to be up for discussion during Biden’s trip.
Iraqi officials said they expected the issue of whether to keep some US forces in Iraq beyond the December 31 deadline would dominate Biden’s talks on Thursday with al-Maliki, Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president, and Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani.
Under a security agreement between the US and Iraq, all troops are to leave the country by the end of the year.
Iraq’s top military commander, however, has said US troops should stay until Iraq’s security forces can defend its borders – which he said could take until 2020.
Al-Maliki is under pressure not to extend the US military’s presence beyond the end of 2011.
Biden’s talks with Iraqi officials come after visits to Kabul, where he met Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and Islamabad, where he held talks with senior Pakistaniofficials.