January 12, 2009 / 4:06 PM / 11 years ago

Biden in Iraq; Bush rues war mistakes

* U.S. Vice President-elect meets Iraqi president

* Bombers kill 7, wound more than 30 in series of strikes

* Bush says history will judge troop "surge" favourably

By Abdulrahman Taha

BAGHDAD, Jan 12 (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden arrived in Baghdad on Monday for talks with leaders of Iraq, where the withdrawal of 140,000 American troops is seen as a major challenge facing the incoming U.S. administration.

He arrived hours after bombers unleashed a wave of attacks across the capital that mainly struck Iraqi security forces, killing at least seven people and wounding more than 30, a reminder of simmering instability despite better security.

The visit by the long-time chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee came at the end of a tour that included stops in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Obama wants to send more troops as he withdraws from Iraq.

The Delaware senator, who takes office with President-elect Barack Obama next week, met President Jalal Talabani at his Baghdad residence and was due to meet other officials as part of a Senate delegation. No news conference was announced.

Biden is one of the few members of the U.S. Senate with a high profile in Iraq, where he is known as author of a 2006 plan to split it into self-ruled Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish enclaves.

That plan angered many Iraqi politicians, and was quietly put on the back burner as violence ebbed. Biden voted for the 2003 invasion of Iraq but later become a harsh critic of the protracted war and the way President George W. Bush executed it.

In his final news conference at the White House, Bush admitted "mistakes" had been made over Iraq but said historians would judge some of his acts favourably, including the decision to order a "surge" of 30,000 extra troops in 2007 to halt Iraq’s slide into all-out sectarian civil war.

Obama and Biden voted against that extra troop deployment.

Bush listed his Iraq disappointments: the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction and a banner during a speech on USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003 reading "Mission Accomplished" — before Iraq collapsed into a raging insurgency and sectarian bloodshed.

"Things didn’t go according to plan, let’s put it that way," Bush said. But he added: "I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged."


Monday’s attacks came within hours of each other in the morning rush hour, mostly near Iraqi security patrols.

A roadside bomb in Baghdad’s Yarmouk neighbourhood struck an Iraqi army lorry carrying ammunition. Three soldiers were charred to death inside the truck and four civilians wounded.

A bomb attached to a car followed quickly by another blast killed three and wounded 10 in the eastern New Baghdad district.

Near Sha’ab stadium in eastern Baghdad, a bomb struck a police patrol, wounding seven people including three policemen.

Another bomb hit a police patrol in central Baghdad’s Karrada district, killing a civilian and wounding four police.

And in Ghazaliya district, western Baghdad, a roadside bomb attack on a police patrol wounded three police and a civilian.

Despite the litany of near daily bomb and gun attacks by militants, Iraq is still substantially less violent than it was 18 months ago, when sectarian death squads roamed and bodies piled up in the streets of Baghdad.

U.S. forces are increasingly taking a back seat to Iraqi troops under a new bilateral security deal that took effect at the beginning of this year, as violence edges downwards.

That security deal calls for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraqi cities by the middle of this year and for all troops to withdraw by the end of 2011. It was negotiated by the outgoing Bush administration, but is seen as compatible with Obama’s plan to withdraw combat forces by mid-2010.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters U.S. and Iraqi officials were meeting to implement the withdrawal plan.

"The joint committee to execute the withdrawal of forces ... agreement begins its work this week," he said.

He added that issues to be worked out included ensuring security in Iraq’s 18 provinces — some still very violent, especially in the north — and training security forces.

U.S. officials say that with the Iraqi military and police forces now over 600,000 strong, the U.S. military will be able to fall back to a support role under the agreement. (Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas and the Washington Bureau; Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Myra MacDonald)

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