Biden holds talks in Iraq on political crisis, Islamic State

US Vice President Joe Biden was in Baghdad Thursday for talks with Iraqi leaders on the country's deepening political crisis and the war on the extremist militia Islamic State, US and Iraqi officials said.

"The vice president has arrived in Iraq for meetings with Iraqi leadership focused on encouraging Iraqi national unity and continued momentum in the fight against ISIL,” a spokesman for Biden said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Shortly after arrival, Biden met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, independent website Alsumaria News reported.

“The meeting tackled political and security developments in Iraq,” the site said, citing an unnamed government official.

Biden had arrived earlier Thursday in Baghdad for a previously unannounced visit, the second by a senior US official to the city in less than a month.

US Secretary of State John Kerry had visited the Iraqi capital earlier this month.

In recent weeks, Iraq has been locked in a political dispute over forming a new government composed of technocrats rather than ministers with political links.

Major political powers have hampered the replacements, prompting a series of pro-reform street protests.

Al-Abadi has warned that the crisis can affect Iraq’s US-backed military campaign to drive Islamic State from the country.

Elsewhere in Iraq, calm prevailed in the volatile north-eastern town of Tuz Khurmato after days of ethnic clashes that left at least 10 people dead, a local official said.

This week, pro-government Shiite militias and Kurdish fighters fought each other over control of the town, located around 175 north of Baghdad.

“The situation is now stable in the town. Stores and restaurants have reopened their doors after the ceasefire went into effect,” Shalal Abdul, the chief of the town’s police said.

“The road between Baghdad and [oil-rich city of] Kirkuk that was closed due to the unrest has reopened,” the official added in a press statement.

Leaders of the Shiite militia, known as the Public Mobilization, and the Kurdish Peshmerga military reached a ceasefire agreement on Wednesday.

The pact calls for the withdrawal of gunmen from both sides from the town and puts local police forces in charge of security there.

No violations have been reported since the truce took effect earlier on Thursday.

Shiite militiamen and the Peshmerga have cleared Islamic State militants from the area, but have repeatedly clashed among themselves there.

Tuz Khurmato is one of many areas disputed between the central government in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan region.

Most of the disputed areas, including Kirkuk, have been occupied by Kurdish forces since Islamic State drove government troops from much of Sunni Arab northern and western Iraq in 2014.

Last month, Iraqi government forces started an offensive to recapture the country's second biggest city, Mosul, from the radical Sunni group.

Islamic State still controls areas in Iraq's Sunni heartland in the west and north.

Last update: Thu, 28/04/2016 - 21:15

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