BAGHDAD, 29th April, 2016 (WAM) — US Vice President Joe Biden pressed Iraq on Thursday not to let its crippling political crisis upend hard-fought gains against the Islamic State group as he returned to the country that’s come to symbolize America’s relentless struggles in the Middle East.

Biden slipped into Baghdad on an unannounced trip, his first to Iraq in nearly five years. Officials said the stop was planned before Iraq’s political system descended into turmoil, hindering U.S.-led efforts to defeat extremists who control parts of both Iraq and Syria. Sitting down with Iraq’s beleaguered leaders, he praised them for working “very, very hard” to construct a new Cabinet and touted progress wresting back territory from IS.

“It’s real, it’s serious, and it’s committed,” Biden said as he met with Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, a Sunni politician facing calls from his colleagues to resign.

Still, the anxious undertones of Biden’s brief visit were clear from the moment he stepped off a military transport plane into blistering heat after an overnight flight from Washington. White House staffers donned body armor and helmets as Biden was whisked by helicopter to the relative safety of the heavily fortified Green Zone, reminders of the dire security situation even in Iraq’s capital.

WAM/Ahlam/Majok