Maliki sees Iraq 'sovereign', US marks symbolic end of combat role

Iraq's prime minister said the country had won "sovereignty" and stood as an "equal" to the United States.

Maliki sees Iraq 'sovereign', US marks symbolic end of combat role

Iraq's prime minister said the country had won "sovereignty" and stood as an "equal" to the United States after the U.S. military formally ended combat operations on Tuesday, despite presence of thousands of foreign troops in the country.

U.S. troop numbers were cut to 50,000 in advance of the Aug. 31 deadlock as President Barack Obama seeks to fulfil a promise to end the war launched by his predecessor George W. Bush.

The six remaining U.S. military brigades will turn their focus to training and advising Iraqi police and troops as Iraq takes responsibility for its own secuirty ahead of a full withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of next year.

"Iraq today is sovereign and independent," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told Iraqis in a televised address to mark the U.S. forces' shift to assisting rather than leading the offensives against insurgents fighting US-led invasion.

"With the execution of the troop pullout, our relations with the United States have entered a new stage between two equal, sovereign countries."

However, more than 1.5 million Iraqis are still displaced after being driven from their homes by violence. Many live in squalor.

"Symbolic deadline"

Obama promised war-weary U.S. voters he would extricate the United States from the war, launched by Bush with the stated aim of destroying "Iraqi weapons of mass destruction".

No such weapons were found. Almost a trillion dollars have been spent and more than 4,400 U.S. soldiers and over 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed since the 2003 invasion.

Obama's Democratic party is battling to retain control of Congress in elections in November and his administration faces other challenges -- a worsening invasion in Afghanistan and storm clouds over the economy.

Tuesday's deadline was to some extent a symbolic one. The 50,000 U.S. soldiers staying on in Iraq for another 16 months are a formidable and heavily-armed force.

Iraqi security forces have already been taking the lead since a bilateral security pact came into force in 2009. U.S. soldiers pulled out of Iraqi towns and cities in June last year.

US Vice President Joe Biden landed in Baghdad on Monday night to mark the military's change of focus from combat to training and advisory tasks in support of Iraqi forces, starting from Wednesday.

He met President Jalal Talabani and Maliki on Tuesday and was scheduled to meet other top politicians, including the former premier and recent election winner Iyad Allawi.

Biden's trip comes after months of protracted but fruitless coalition negotiations which have yet to result in a new government, causing alarm in Washington.

Many Iraqis had hoped the March 7 election would chart a path toward stability.

Instead, the ballot could widen ethnic and sectarian rifts if the actual vote leader, ex-premier Iyad Allawi's Sunni-backed cross-sectarian Iraqiya alliance, is excluded from power by the major Shi'ite-led political factions.

The number of civilians killed in July almost doubled from the month before to 396.

The insurgents have targeted domestic security forces in particular, killing 57 at an army recruitment centre on Aug. 17 and more than 60 when suicide car bombers attacked police stations around the country on Aug. 25.



Agencies

Last Mod: 31 Ağustos 2010, 18:08
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