Biden Makes Surprise Visit to Baghdad

Vice President Joe Biden just landed in Baghdad in a surprise two-day visit to Iraq. According to the White House, Biden is there to meet with U.S. military officials and troops and will sit down with Iraqi political leaders including President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The trip comes on the heels of Biden's new Iraq duties. As Newsweek was first to report, President Obama has asked Biden to take the lead on Iraq policy with the goal of encouraging Iraqi political leaders to get their act together. Here's part of my write-up from Newsweek's latest issue:

Biden's role will be something of an unofficial envoy to Iraq, though he won't handle day-to-day dealings with officials on the ground. The goal is to "raise the level" in hopes that Biden's stature encourages Iraqi officials to bridge their political differences, says a senior administration official who didn't want to be named talking about high-level personnel decisions. "He knows the players," White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel tells NEWSWEEK. "He brings a lot of experience and expertise on this issue to the table, and the president trusts him."

While they insist that overall incidents of violence in Iraq remain low, Obama and his aides worry about the recent spate of bombings in the region and the Iraqi security forces' ability to respond. But it's the continued political turmoil that has officials most anxious. Both Obama and Biden have raised the issue repeatedly with Iraqi leaders in recent months, without much success. "I think the Maliki government is not only going to have to continue to strengthen its security forces, but it's also going to have to engage in the kind of political give-and-take leading up to the national elections that we've been talking about for quite some time," Obama said on June 26. "I haven't seen as much political progress in Iraq … as I would like to see."