Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Joe Biden in Baghdad: Is the US Making Headway against ISIS?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Joe Biden in Baghdad: Is the US Making Headway against ISIS?

Article excerpt

Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Iraq Thursday, in an effort to "encourage national unity" in the fight against the Islamic State.

Mr. Biden's visit to Iraq is just one of many he has made throughout the Obama administration in order to shore up the Iraqi government. His arrival comes at a time when ISIS forces are in retreat in Iraq and Syria, but political turmoil in Baghdad continues.

"Iraq is a central theatre in the fight against the Islamic State. As a result, the US has every interest in trying to bolster the Iraqi government," says Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. "Should there be further fragmentation of the country, the fight against the Islamic State just gets that much harder."

The vice president's first meeting after arriving in Iraq was with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Mr. Abadi has recently suffered significant opposition from former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Concerns about security in Baghdad due to sectarianism have even led Abadi to pull troops away from the fight against the Islamic State in order to bolster security in the capital.

Although the White House has not disclosed Biden's official itinerary, he was expected to meet with various other national leaders to emphasize the importance of unity and the continued effort against the Islamic State.

"The more the political system in Baghdad is consumed with everybody keeping their job, or figuring out how to rearrange the government," an unnamed government official traveling with Biden told CNN, "the more difficult it is for everybody to be on the same page as it relates to the next step in the counter-ISIL campaign."

According to Dr. Cook, the US could not hope to oppose the Islamic State in the region without a functioning Iraqi government.

"The weakest link in the chain of the effort to establish a stable Iraq is Baghdad," says Graham Allison, director of Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, "and the absence of a competent, inclusive government could hinder the fight against ISIS. …

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