Vice President Joe Biden spoke Sunday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to offer U.S. moral support for political reconciliation after recent violence marred the start of the country's self-reliance following the departure of U.S. military personnel from Iraq.
Biden also spoke Saturday with the president of the Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, his office said. Kurdistan is the northern area where Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi allegedly is hiding out with the help of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani after Maliki called for Hashemi's arrest.
Maliki is accusing Hashemi of running death squads against the Shiite majority, of which Maliki is a part. Hashemi denies the charges and is reportedly seeking safe passage out of the country as Sunnis boycott Parliament, causing a political crisis in Baghdad.
Biden "offered condolences on the recent violence in Baghdad, exchanged views with both leaders on the current political climate in Iraq and reiterated our support for ongoing efforts to convene a dialogue among Iraqi political leaders," the vice president's office said.
Biden's calls follow a wave of bombings in Baghdad earlier in the week that left at least 60 people dead.
The action has heated up just in the past week after the departure of the last U.S. forces in Iraq. Pentagon spokesman George Little tweeted Saturday that no U.S. combat forces remained in Iraq the day before Christmas.
That has some U.S. officials concerned that the absence of a U.S. military presence has created a vacuum for a festering brew of unrest amid factional tensions that have lasted for decades but were kept under wraps during Saddam Hussein's tyranny and mitigated during U.S. liberation.
"It has been going on for decades," U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar said of the Sunni-Shiite conflict.
"For the moment we're hopeful that the al-Maliki government will hold together," Lugar, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN on Sunday.
But, he said, the violence and factional politics are "not good news for Iraq. It is not good news for the whole neighborhood. ... I don't think it will fall apart but I fear that there will be continued clashes between Shiites and Sunnis and that the Kurds in the northern parts will be less and less affiliated with the other two," he said.
Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Chuck Nash, a Fox News military analyst, offered a more dire analysis.
He said the Iraqis need to understand that if they miss their shot at freedom by allowing sectarian violence to mar their efforts at democracy, they are going to be subject to neighbors who will "come in and carve it up."
"It really is bad, and especially when you look at the -- just the nasty way that the Iranians continue to cause trouble in Iraq and with us not there anymore, the Iranians are going to increase their control. They've already thoroughly penetrated that government," he said.