Maliki marks end of US-Iraq combat operations
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki welcomed a 'new stage' in US-Iraq relations today, amid trepidation over the US pulling out before Iraq forms a new government.
Security forces were on high alert as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki marked the official end of the US combat mission here by telling skeptical Iraqis that a new day had dawned for their country.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Iraq combat mission over
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“You are regaining the sovereignty of your country,” Mr. Maliki told a divided nation in an address on state-run TV. “Our relations with the United States have entered a new stage between two equal, sovereign countries.”
Though the US combat role is officially ending, roughly 50,000 US troops remain and as long as they are in Iraq it's possible they'll be involved in fighting.
The withdrawal of the last US combat brigades before tomorrow’s deadline was a victory both for President Barack Obama, who made it a main campaign pledge, and for Maliki, who is fighting to remain prime minister in a new government. Despite a parliamentary election six months ago, a new government has not yet been formed.
Biden stresses urgency
The timing of Mr. Obama’s plan was decided long before Iraq's political impasse. Many Iraqis blame the political vacuum for ongoing attacks – some of which are suicide attacks that US officials say are being carried out by remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Unlike June 30 last year, which was declared a day of national celebration as US troops withdrew from the cities, the capital was somber on Tuesday.
“Do we celebrate suicide?” asks Abu Tariq, an army officer in central Baghdad. He says that the US military drawdown – even while Iraq's borders remain porous and there are "political divisions within the security forces” caused by a system that allows political parties to nominate officers – "is suicide for the Iraqi people and a stable Iraqi state.”
“I don’t say they should stay – but the timing is so wrong. At least wait until we have a government,” he says.
In talks with Iraqi leaders on Tuesday, visiting Vice President Joe Biden said forming a coalition government that could improve service provision to the people and fashion a new post-war relationship with the US is an urgent priority.
Status of US troops in Iraq
Under a status of forces agreement between the two countries, all US troops are to withdraw by the end of next year. The Sept. 1 deadline for the end of combat operations was an additional marker that was part of Obama’s withdrawal plan.
US forces have not carried out unilateral combat missions since June of last year, when Iraq took full responsibility for its own security.
After Tuesday, US soldiers will no longer engage in joint combat missions with the Iraqi military and will be relegated to small groups advising Iraqi forces. They will still be able to conduct missions to protect US personnel and US installations, including new diplomatic missions planned for four Iraqi cities.
Although the Iraqi security forces have improved dramatically, most officials believe it will be years before they are capable of defending their borders or air space without the help of other countries.