BAGHDAD — Vice President Joe Biden sought Monday to reassure Iraq that America is not abandoning it as the U.S. military steps back and a stalemate over who will run the war-battered nation's next government approaches its sixth month.
Biden flew into Baghdad a few days before a military ceremony formally marking the end of U.S. combat operations seven years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. He also will try to spur the nation's leaders to forge a power-sharing agreement to bring some much-needed political stability to Iraq after March parliamentary elections failed to produce a clear winner.
Biden tried to reassure Iraqis that America's transition to more of a diplomatic mission in Iraq than a military one would be smooth.
"We're going to be just fine. They're going to be just fine," he said during a brief photo opportunity at the U.S. Embassy, sitting next to Ambassador Jim Jeffrey and surrounded by top U.S. generals overseeing Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.
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The Sept. 1 ceremony marks the start of the so-called "Operation New Dawn" — symbolizing the beginning of the end of the American military's mission in Iraq.
Fewer than 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq — down from a peak of nearly 170,000 at the height of the 2007 military surge that is credited with helping turn the tide in Iraq as it teetered on the brink of civil war. Additionally, U.S. troops will no longer be allowed to go on combat missions unless requested and accompanied by Iraqi forces.