BAGHDAD — As Vice President Joe Biden presides over the formal end to US combat operations in Iraq, few Iraqis are cheering the American exit.
Just under 50,000 US troops remain in Iraq — down from a peak of nearly 170,000 at the height of the military surge in 2007. Those troops will be focused on training and assisting the Iraqi military, and will no longer be allowed to go on combat missions unless requested and accompanied by Iraqi forces.
Underscoring the shift, Biden was making a new appeal to Iraqi leaders Tuesday, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to end the political deadlock and seat a new government. March 7 parliamentary elections left Iraq without a clear winner, and insurgents have since exploited the uncertainty to hammer Iraqi security forces.
Biden and US officials have downplayed suggestions they are abandoning Iraq at a crucial time. The vice-president Tuesday said militants' attempts to again wreck havoc in Iraq have been unsuccessful.
"Notwithstanding what the national press says about increased violence, the truth is, things are still very much different, things are much safer," Biden said Tuesday in comments to al-Maliki before the two met privately.