BAGHDAD — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. landed in Baghdad on Thursday, beginning a two-day diplomatic mission that he said was intended to “re-establish contact” with Iraqi leaders and prod them toward settling internal disputes over oil revenues and political power sharing.
Mr. Biden’s surprise trip, just days after American combat forces officially withdrew from Iraqi cities, underscores the concern inside the White House about the fragility of the newly sovereign Iraq. President Obama has asked Mr. Biden to serve as a kind of unofficial envoy to the country, and the vice president said this would be the first in a series of trips he planned to make to the region.
The trip is unusually long for such a high-level official; when Mr. Obama visited Iraq he spent just a few hours here, and President George W. Bush did not spend more than a day. But Mr. Biden said Iraq was at a pivotal moment, “the moment where a lot of Iraqis cynically believed we’d never keep the agreement.” He said the White House wanted to send a message to Iraqi leaders that it was engaged at the highest levels.
Earlier on Thursday, the Iraq government said that it had reached a tentative agreement to buy armaments from France and had signed a series of business deals with French companies to help rebuild Iraq.
The announcements came during a visit to Baghdad by the French prime minister, François Fillon, and a delegation of about 30 French business executives. In February, President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Baghdad and in May Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, traveled to France.
The agreements announced Thursday represent a resumption of the close ties that existed between the French and Iraqi governments during the regime of Saddam Hussein. The relationship was interrupted by the United States-led invasion in 2003, which the French government opposed.
The contracts call for French companies to build roads, railroads, water treatment plants and a large cement factory, as well as a new airport south of Baghdad between the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala to accommodate the millions of pilgrims who visit the shrines in those cities each year.
The arms agreement, announced Thursday in a news release by the Iraqi government, states that the two nations intend to sign contracts to “buy, modernize and repair weapons and military equipment,” and that the French will provide training in the use of the armaments.
The release did not specify what sort of weapons Iraq intended to buy. During the 1970s and 1980s, France was a major supplier of arms to Iraq.
While Mr. Obama has hailed the withdrawal of combat troops as an “important milestone,” he has also expressed concern that the Iraqis are not moving quickly enough to forge a stable government. Just last week, Mr. Obama told reporters, “I haven’t seen as much political progress in Iraq negotiations between the Sunni, the Shia and the Kurds as I would like to see.”
Mr. Biden said he was here to deliver that message in person. “What is their plan to resolve the real differences that exist?” he asked.
But the vice president, who spent years as a senator developing relations with Iraqi officials, must now navigate a thicket of relationships within the Obama administration and avoid stepping on his colleagues’ toes as he takes on the added role of White House point man on Iraq.
Mr. Biden’s visit comes as the relationship between Baghdad and Washington is changing. Mr. Bush took a deeply personal interest in Iraq, and conducted regularly scheduled secure video conference calls with Mr. Maliki. But Mr. Obama ended that practice; aides say he thought it more appropriate for his ambassador, Christopher R. Hill, and top commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, to handle such day-to-day contacts.
In putting Mr. Biden in the role of unofficial envoy, Mr. Obama may have recognized that he needed to pay greater attention to Baghdad. Mr. Biden said the job was Mr. Obama’s idea, not his: “The president said, ‘Joe, go do it.’ ”
Mr. Biden is to meet with leaders, including Mr. Maliki, and celebrate the Fourth of July with troops. His son Beau is a captain in the Army National Guard in Iraq, and aides said the two would probably see each other at some point during the visit.
Like all high-level trips to Iraq, Mr. Biden’s journey was planned in secrecy.
Amir A. al-Obeidi, Riyadh Mohammed and Duraid Adnan contributed reporting.