WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States condemned a wave of bombings on Thursday that killed at least 72 people in Iraq, and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to voice support for his efforts to calm sectarian tension, the White House said.
"We continue to urge leaders to come together to face common challenges," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. "At this difficult time, the United States stands with Iraq as a strategic partner and a close friend."
The last U.S. troops left Iraq earlier this month and Washington is anxious to play down any direct connection between their departure and a subsequent spike in violence, fanning fear of a split between Iraq's Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs and Kurds.
"Attempts such as this to derail Iraq's continued progress will fail," Carney said. "Iraq has suffered heinous attacks like this in the past, and its security forces have shown they are up to the task of responding and maintaining stability."
The bombings in Baghdad came after Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sought the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on charges he organized assassinations and bombings.
Maliki, acting days after the last U.S. troops left, has also asked the Iraqi parliament to fire his Sunni deputy Saleh al-Mutlaq after he likened Maliki to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator toppled by a U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Hashemi has denied the accusations and has retreated to northern Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, where it will be hard for Baghdad's Shi'ite-led government to make an arrest.
Biden, who is President Barack Obama's point person on Iraq, spoke with Talabani on Thursday after reaching out to other Iraqi leaders earlier in the week.
"The vice president ... reiterated the need for actions to be guided by the rule of law and Iraq's Constitution," Carney said, underlining Washington's desire not to interfere in an internal Iraqi legal matter after America finally ended its war in Iraq.
(Reporting By Caren Bohan and Alister Bull; Editing by Sandra Maler and Eric Walsh)