Vice President Biden has just made a surprise visit to Baghdad, Iraq, capping off a whirlwind Middle East tour. Air Force two touched down at 12:43a local time; late afternoon in Washington, DC Wednesday.
Mr. Biden is set to meet with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani. After a year of discord and struggle, Iraq was able to form a unity government last December. While on the ground, the Vice President will also meet with two other key officials in Iraq's leadership: Iraqiyya Leader Ayad Allawi and Iraqi parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi.
American troop presence has been whittled down to fewer than 50,000, as combat has officially ended in Iraq. However, the administration has continually said long-term ties to Iraq will not be severed.
"The remaining troops are advising and assisting Iraq's security forces, conducting partnered counter-terrorism operations, and protecting U.S. civilians," a White House official explains. "At the same time, the United States is increasing its diplomatic, political and economic engagement with Iraq, opening consulates and branch offices throughout the country and pursuing important programs to help train Iraq's police and judiciary and to build strong business and investment ties," the official added.
According to a U.S. agreement with the Iraqis established under President George W. Bush, all American forces are due to leave Iraq at the end of the year.
Mr. Biden has been traveling throughout the Middle East since Monday.
He's also made stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan.