Biden coaches Iraq toward new government

Vice President Biden is in touch with top Iraqi officials, trying to find a political solution to the sectarian crisis threatening to tear the nation apart, the White House said Wednesday.

The White House said Biden called Osama al-Nujaifi, who served as speaker of the previous session of Iraq’s Council of Representatives, to express "the United States’ strong support for Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and concern for those Iraqis affected."

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"The two agreed on the importance of Iraqis moving expeditiously to form a new government capable of uniting the country," the administration added in a statement.

Iraqi leaders are working to form a coalition government they hope can calm tensions amid a rising Sunni insurgency that has captured large swaths of the country's north.

But early efforts have proven unsuccessful, with Sunnis and Kurds walking out of the first parliamentary session on Tuesday.

They expressed frustration with Shiite leaders, who have not said whether they will advance Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to serve another term. Despite warnings from the U.S., Maliki, a Shiite, has spent recent years purging Sunni officials from the government and military, earning the ire of other sectarian leaders.

Press secretary Josh Earnest said Biden was "talking to people who might have some influence over the ability of Iraq's political leaders to come together and make the formation of an inclusive government a priority."

The White House would not say if Biden had offered suggestions about who the Shiites should nominate as the next prime minister, although it's widely believed the White House does not want Maliki to remain in office.

"It is the view of this administration that Iraq's political leaders need to put the interests of the country first and that we can't be in a situation where the United States is dictating to the Iraqi people or even to Iraq's political leadership who should be in charge or who should be getting which positions," Earnest said.