BAGHDAD – Vice President Joe Biden ended a visit to Iraq on Monday without presenting any plan to nudge the country's leaders toward forming a government, four months after an election.
Biden made no proposals in talks with incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, top vote winner and ex-premier Iyad Allawi, and others, causing disappointment among those who had hoped his visit might help to end the post-election deadlock.
No one won the March 7 ballot outright, leading to prolonged political jostling. Coalition talks could still last several more months, exposing Iraq to a risky vacuum as it emerges from sectarian war but struggles to contain a stubborn insurgency.
Some Sunni politicians in Iraq have accused the United States of not doing enough to support the right of Allawi's cross-sectarian Iraqiya bloc to form the government.
They also suspect neighboring Iran wants a Shi'ite-led government that would continue to sideline the minority Sunnis who dominated Iraq before the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein.
"There is no clear support for Iraqiya and there is no favoring one party over the other. They stayed in the middle," said Osama al-Nujaifi, a senior Sunni leader in Iraqiya.
"They talked about electoral rights and respecting the election results ... (but) stayed away from the main sensitive issues," he said after Biden met Allawi.
The U.S. military's plans to end combat operations in August and withdraw completely next year have raised anxiety among those Sunnis, and also minority Kurds, who see the U.S. forces as a bulwark against majority Shi'ites.
The fragility of security gains was evident on Sunday night when mortar rounds fell on Baghdad's Green Zone government and diplomatic enclave, where the U.S. embassy is located. No one was injured and no damage caused, U.S. officials said.
On Monday, another mortar round exploded in the area, Iraqi police sources said.
Both Allawi's Iraqiya and a Shi'ite bloc formed from a merger between Maliki's State of Law and the Iran-friendly Iraqi National Alliance claim the right to have a first stab at forming the government.
Biden, appointed by President Barack Obama to take the lead on Iraq issues, met Maliki and Allawi on Sunday.
On Monday he met Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Ammar al-Hakim, head of the Iranian-backed Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI). ISCI is part of the INA, which finished third in the election, behind State of Law and Iraqiya.
Biden declined to talk to the media at the end of his visit.
The vice president and other U.S. officials stressed over the three-day visit that the United States "has no hidden agenda" in Iraq and no favorite candidate.
"There was no discussion of individuals, there was no discussion of who gets what job, again there was no discussion of an American plan for Iraq because there isn't one," said a senior U.S. administration official traveling with Biden.
Iraqis had hoped the election would lead to stability and economic recovery seven years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Sunnis, who voted overwhelmingly for Iraqiya, could react angrily if Allawi is not appointed as prime minister.
"The United States is able to paralyze the work of any Iraqi government that is formed against its wishes. It will not turn its back totally on Iraq," said analyst Ibrahim al-Sumaidaie.
"But I think it is impossible that Iraq remains their first priority ... The war in Afghanistan is taking more attention from the U.S. administration and the economic crisis is still affecting them."
© 2016 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.