Biden calls Iraqi leaders as concerns grow over new sectarian rift

Vice President Biden spoke to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday as concerns grow that recent violence and political turmoil in the country could intensify with the withdrawal of American troops.

Biden "offered condolences on the recent violence in Baghdad, [and] exchanged views with both leaders on the current political climate in Iraq," according to a White House readout.

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The vice president "reiterated our support for ongoing efforts to convene a dialogue among Iraqi political leaders," said the statement.

The White House said that Biden had spoken to Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani on Saturday.

The last American troops left Iraq on Dec. 18, marking the end of the almost nine-year war and fulfilling one of President Obama’s campaign promises.

Many Republican lawmakers, however, have criticized the withdrawal, claiming that the move will destabilize the country and leave Iraq susceptible to Iranian influence.

Earlier this month, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Obama deserved "scorn and disdain" for his decision to order a complete pullout, claiming the decision was “dictated by politics, and not our national security interests.”

The week after the troop pullout Baghdad was hit by a series of explosions that killed at least 65 people. Sectarian tensions rose after an arrest warrant was issued for the Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, who had accused al-Maliki, a Shiite, of drumming up “fabricated charges” linking him to a death squad.

Biden also spoke to Iraqi leaders last week informing them that the U.S. was monitoring the situation and hoped the leaders would work out their differences and maintain an “inclusive partnership government.”