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BIDEN TO IRAQIS: END DELAYS, PICK LEADERS

More suicide bombers strike during his visit.

Associated Press

BAGHDAD - Vice President Joe Biden urged rival Iraqi politicians Sunday to end months of delays and select new leaders for their wobbly democracy, predicting a peaceful transition of power even as suicide bombers struck government centers in two major cities.

The attacks in Mosul and Ramadi underscored persistent fears that insurgents will exploit Iraq's political uncertainty to stoke widespread sectarian violence. Four people were killed and 25 injured in the two blasts that occurred hundreds of miles apart.

At least five mortar rounds also fell in the Green Zone late Sunday while Biden was there. The Green Zone is the sprawling protected area in the heart of Baghdad that is home to the U.S. Embassy, as well as the Iraqi parliament and the prime minister's office. There were no reported casualties. Mortars and rockets are periodically fired into the Green Zone but rarely result in casualties or damage.

On his fifth trip to Iraq since he was elected, Biden sat down separately with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite who is struggling to keep his job after his party lost the March 7 election, and his chief challenger, former premier Ayad Allawi.

The Sunni-backed Iraqiya political alliance that Allawi heads won the most seats in the vote, but it fell far short of securing enough seats in parliament to control the government. That has led to four months of both men trying to woo support from allied lawmakers, ultimately delaying the decision of who will be the next prime minister.

Biden made it clear that a government that is not represented by all sides - no matter who leads it - will fall short of a thriving democracy.

"All are going to have to play a meaningful role in this new government in order for it to work," Biden told Iraqi leaders of some of the top vote-getting political coalitions at a U.S. Embassy reception Sunday evening. "My plea to you is finish what you started."

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