Aug 30, 2010 11:44 AM by Melissa Canone
BAGHDAD (AP) - Vice President Joe Biden returned to Iraq Monday
to mark this week's formal end to U.S. combat operations and push
the country's leaders to end a six-month postelection stalemate
blocking formation of a new government.
Wednesday's ceremony will signal a shift toward a greater U.S.
diplomatic role as the military mission dwindles seven years after
the American invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Underscoring the shift, officials said Biden will make a new
appeal to Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki,
to end the political deadlock and seat a new government. March 7
elections left Iraq without a clear winner, and
insurgents have exploited the uncertainty to hammer Iraqi security
forces in near-daily attacks.
Biden and al-Maliki will meet Tuesday morning "to discuss the
political situation and withdrawal, and Iraqis taking over
responsibility for security," the prime minister's adviser, Yasin
Majeed, told The Associated Press.
It was the vice president's sixth trip to Iraq since he was
elected and, officially, he came to preside over a military
change-of-command ceremony. On Wednesday, Gen. Ray Odierno ends
more than five years in Iraq and hands over the reins as commander
of U.S. forces here to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin. Austin also has
served extensively in Iraq, most recently as commander of troop
operations in 2008-09.
But the Sept. 1 ceremony also marks the start of the so-called
"Operation New Dawn" - symbolizing the beginning of the end of
the American military's mission Fn Iraq since invading in March
Just under 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 turning the tide in Iraq as it teetered on the brink
of civil war. Additionally, U.S. troops no longer will be allowed
to go on combat missions unless requested and accompanied by Iraqi
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