Iraq’s prime minister says Iraq now independent after end of US combat operations

By Barbara Surk, AP
Tuesday, August 31, 2010

PM says Iraq independent after US combat role ends

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s prime minister hailed the end of American combat operations Tuesday, saying Iraq is now an independent, sovereign country on equal footing with the U.S.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spoke on what the U.S. has deemed its final day of combat operations in Iraq. Starting Wednesday, the remaining 50,000 American troops will be focused on advising the Iraqi forces although they will still be able to protect themselves and their bases.

“Iraq today is sovereign and independent,” said al-Maliki. “Through implementing the troop withdrawal agreement, our relations with the United States of America have entered into a new phase between two equal, sovereign states.”

Vice President Joe Biden was in Iraq Tuesday to commemorate the official end of combat operations. He met with top Iraqi officials, including the prime minister, in an attempt to encourage them to form a government after a nearly six-month impasse that followed an inconclusive March 7 election.

The vote failed to produce a clear winner and political leaders have been struggling for months to agree on who should lead the country during a critical time when the remaining U.S. troops will leave the country.

Al-Maliki rose to popularity by overseeing a return to relative stability after the bloody insurgency and by cracking down on militias that used to run rampant.

But his popularity has waned in recent months as violent attacks have continued, and many Iraqis worry the withdrawal of American combat troops is coming too soon.

Al-Maliki maintained his forces are able to protect the country.

“I assure you that the Iraqi security troops are capable and qualified to shoulder the responsibility and the cowardly terrorist acts that targeted civilians and state institutions are but a desperate attempt by al-Qaida and remnants of the former regime to prove their presence,” he said. “We promise you a full withdrawal next year.”

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