The highly fortified International Zone in Baghdad came under fire the same day that Vice President Joe Biden paid a surprise visit, an Interior Ministry official told CNN.
Biden was not injured, a pool report from Baghdad said. Reporters traveling with him heard the blasts, but saw no damage. CNN’s Cal Perry in Baghdad said he heard four loud “booms.” Warning alarms were sounded, and security was stepped up in the International Zone, which is informally known as the Green Zone. It is not clear what weapons were fired or if Biden was near the location where the rounds hit. A U.S. military spokesman said he could confirm only that one round hit, and said it did not land in the International Zone. “Initial reports indicate one round of indirect fire impacted near the International Zone, not in it,” Lt. Col. Phillip Smith, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, told CNN. Rocket and mortar fire aimed at the area was common in the past, but has become much rarer this year. Biden’s visit was widely reported on Iraqi television, Perry said. . He is in Iraq to meet with the country’s leaders and visit U.S. troops, his office said.
U.S. envoy: Timeline for troops leaving Iraq on track
Journalists on the plane with the vice president were not told where they were going until after they were on the way. Biden was due to sit down with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, as well as Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, and other officials. He was greeted at the airport at dusk by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno; U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill; and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, according to a pool report. He flew by helicopter to the International Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy and many government buildings. Biden, Hill, Odierno and Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, who is traveling with Biden, then went into a meeting. They did not speak to reporters. This is Biden’s third trip to Iraq this year, after visits in July and January. “The president has asked the vice president to provide sustained, high-level focus from the White House on Iraq, and this trip is part of that mission,” the White House said in a statement issued as Biden arrived. The United States is less than a year away from its goal of withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq. Hill has said the next 12 months are “very critical” to establishing security in Iraq, but the goal of withdrawing most U.S. troops by August 2010 is “absolutely achievable.”