Rockets explode as Biden wraps up Maliki meetings

By David Rising
Associated Press / September 17, 2009

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BAGHDAD - Insurgents fired at least two rockets at Baghdad’s Green Zone yesterday, minutes after Vice President Joe Biden wrapped up meetings with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and expressed confidence that attempts to destabilize Iraq through violence will fail.

The sound of the rockets could be heard on the side of the Tigris River opposite the Green Zone, and people inside Maliki’s office, including Biden and Maliki, were warned to stay inside. The rockets could be heard exploding in the vicinity of the Green Zone but there were no reports of casualties.

It was the second such attack in as many nights as Biden met with US and Iraqi officials inside the fortified area in downtown Baghdad that houses government offices, agencies, and the US and British embassies.

After Biden’s arrival Tuesday, four rockets were fired at the Green Zone in attacks that killed two Iraqi civilians.

The attacks took place after Biden had retired for the night following meetings with US officials on the first day of his visit. Three suspects were detained for questioning, but let go.

After the meeting with Maliki, Biden said Iraq’s future depended on its ability to resolve its lingering political and sectarian differences, adding that the United States was “committed to the Iraqi government and people as they work to create a peaceful and prosperous Iraq.’’

Although violence has declined around Iraq, deadly attacks still occur, including Aug. 19 truck bombings against the foreign and finance ministries that killed more than 100 people.

Yesterday, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle attacked a checkpoint north of Baghdad, killing three people and wounding nine, police said.

Biden offered his condolences to victims of the Aug. 19 bombings and assured them “we are confident the terrorists will fail.’’

On the effort to reconcile political and sectarian divides, Biden said that Maliki “was kind enough to discuss with us some of the issues that are in need of resolution if the Iraqis are to achieve the bright future they fought for and deserve.’’

As the number of bombings and other attacks declines elsewhere in Iraq, violence has persisted in the north, which remains a battleground between Sunni Arab extremists and Iraqi and US forces. Kurdish-Arab tension there also frequently flares into violence.

Biden plans to travel north after leaving Baghdad.

Other issues that were discussed included the agreement governing the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

The US-Iraqi security agreement calls for the withdrawal of American combat forces by the end of August 2010 and of all US troops by the end of 2011. The US military is optimistic that the readiness of Iraqi forces will allow it to withdraw all combat forces next year according to plan, and then pull out the remaining 50,000 troops by the end of the following year.

There are now about 130,000 US troops in Iraq.

Maliki described the meeting as positive but took no questions. Neither did Biden.

Biden met a broad spectrum of Iraqi officials in Baghdad.

Over his three-day visit, Biden’s main focus was expected to be plans for January elections and the ongoing violence in Iraq’s north. Biden last visited Iraq on July 4 to spend Independence Day with the troops. During that trip he also met with his son, Beau, who is an Army captain serving in Iraq.