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Another version....American paper concerning Biden /Maliki meeting.

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Iraq's leader tells Biden: Stay out of reconciliation

It's an Iraqi issue, VP is told, and U.S. help is unwelcome

By Liz Sly Tribune Newspapers July 4, 2009

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BAGHDAD - — Vice President Joe Biden's mission to promote national reconciliation in Iraq was rebuffed on Friday by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who told him that the issue is a domestic Iraqi affair and that U.S involvement won't be welcome.

Biden was beginning a two-day visit to Iraq after being appointed this week by President Barack Obama as his special representative on dealings with the Persian Gulf nation. His assignment, the White House said, is to work with Iraqis "toward overcoming their political differences and achieving the type of reconciliation that we all understand has yet to fully take place."

But Biden's meeting with al-Maliki was a reminder that although the U.S. maintains about 130,000 troops in Iraq, its influence is waning rapidly now that the clock is ticking on the timetable for the departure of all American troops from the country.

Days earlier, Iraqis had celebrated the withdrawal of American forces from their cities as a "day of national sovereignty." And while Biden's visit was welcomed as evidence that the U.S. doesn't plan to completely disengage from Iraq, al-Maliki made it clear that he does not want U.S. officials to involve themselves as closely in Iraqi politics as they did in the past.

Al-Maliki told Biden that "the reconciliation issue is a purely Iraqi issue and any non-Iraqi involvement might have a negative effect," al-Maliki's spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said. "We don't want the Americans to come and get involved."

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Biden said he had delivered a message from Obama stressing that the U.S. remains committed to Iraq's success despite the troop pullback. While there are still political steps that need to be taken, "Iraqis must use the political process to resolve their remaining differences and advance their national interest," he said. "We stand ready if asked ... to help in that process."

A U.S. official traveling with Biden said the vice president went further than that, warning al-Maliki that if Iraq does not resolve its outstanding political disputes, it cannot continue to count on U.S. support.

Many crucial issues on which Iraqis are divided remain unresolved, including the future of the country's oil and gas resources, the disputed boundaries of the autonomous Kurdish region in the north and the question of how to reconcile with former members of the Baath Party.

Tribune Newspapers staff writers Raheem Salman and Saif Hameed contributed. lsly@tribune.com

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