Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise trip to Iraq in an apparent attempt to alleviate the political strain in the capital of Baghdad and jump-start the fight against Islamic State.
Biden’s visit Thursday comes at a precarious time for the Baghdad government. Internal divides within the Iraqi Council of Representatives (COR) reached a fever pitch Tuesday, as hundreds of protesters loyal to Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr marched on the city’s Tahrir square. To make matters worse, there have been signs Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have been remarkably inconsistent in their push towards Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul.
Biden’s goals for the trip include a call for Iraqis to rise above sectarian divisions, support Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s attempts to reform his cabinet with technocrats and address the economic issues Iraq is facing due to dropping oil prices.
Al-Sadr warned Tuesday he would order his militia, believed to number around 10,000, to storm the Iraqi parliament should reforms not be successful. The Sadr militiareportedly shut down other government ministries last week.
Less than two weeks ago, a political insurgency within COR barricaded itself in Baghdad and attempted to stage a vote to remove COR Speaker Salim al-Juburi. Around the same time, a contingent from the Shiite and Kurdish political factions engaged in a brawl in the middle of a parliamentary meeting.
In an apparent response to the protests and al-Sadr’s threat, COR approved a partial cabinet reformation Tuesday. The ministries of health, water resources, electricity, higher education, culture and labor and social affairs have been included in the reform.
Biden’s visit comes just days after the Obama administration announced it will be sending 250 special forces personnel to Syria and an additional 217 military personnel and attack helicopters to Iraq to help shore-up ISF.
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