WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2009 – Iraq is well on its way to stability and self-reliance, Vice President Joe Biden said in Baghdad today.

Biden arrived in Iraq yesterday on a surprise visit to meet with the country’s leaders and visit U.S. troops. He assured Iraqi officials that the United States’ commitment to strengthen the relationship with Iraq remains strong.

“Our goal is to work in partnership with Iraq to help the Iraqi people build a country that’s sovereign and stable and self-reliant — and they’re well on their way,” Biden said during a joint statement with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki.

“We want a long-term relationship based upon mutual respect,” he said. “We’re determined to stand with our Iraqi friends as they address the challenges that remain.”

The two leaders focused on strengthening ties between the two nations, the status of the Strategic Framework Agreement and the continuing fight against terrorism.

Biden said the Strategic Framework Agreement lays the groundwork for a strong and long-lasting relationship between the United States and Iraq in cultural, educational, economic and scientific fields. The agreement also will allow the two nations to improve governance, deliver services and promote the rule of law.

“The Strategic Framework Agreement is the foundation of our relationship, and we look forward to joining our Iraqi friends in developing and carrying out programs that will benefit both our countries in the near future and the long term,” he said.

Maliki said the two leaders discussed ways to foster and further support the political process that has cemented the democracy in Iraq and the way to fight the terrorism that threatens international security and peace.

“We also talked about our ongoing efforts to pursue the terrorists who hit the lives of people and who hit the infrastructure,” the prime minister said.

At the end of June, U.S. and NATO officials transferred security responsibility in Iraqi cities and towns to the Iraqi Security Forces, Biden noted.

“This transition was part of the security agreement concluded between our countries last November,” he said. “And in accordance with that agreement, we will continue to provide training and support for Iraqi Security Forces.”

Biden said U.S. officials will move ahead in other aspects of the security agreement by removing all U.S. combat brigades from Iraq by the end of August 2010 and all remaining U.S. troops by the end of 2011.

The Aug. 19 terrorist bombings demonstrated that the enemies of national unity in Iraq are ready to murder innocent civilians as they attempt to re-ignite sectarian conflict, Biden said. He condemned such attacks and extended condolences to the families and victims.

“We are confident the terrorists will fail,” he said. “The Iraqi people and security forces charged with protecting them have shown great courage, resilience and restraint in the face of this danger. And they’ll continue to reject the forces of division and destruction.”

Iraqis and Americans, Biden concluded, have made many sacrifices in the last six and a half years, and much hard work remains.

“But under the Prime Minister’s leadership and the efforts of the Iraqi people, Iraq is on the road to a better future,” he said. “And we remain committed to cooperating with the Iraqi government and people as they work together to create a peaceful and prosperous Iraq.”

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