BAGHDAD — Vice President Joe Biden sought Monday to reassure Iraq that America is not abandoning it as the U.S. military steps back and a stalemate over who will run the war-battered nation’s next government approaches its sixth month.

Biden flew into Baghdad two days before a military ceremony formally marking the end of U.S. combat operations seven years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. He will also try to spur the nation’s leaders to forge a power-sharing agreement to bring some much-needed political stability to Iraq after March parliamentary elections failed to produce a clear winner.

Biden tried to reassure Iraqis that America’s transition to more of a diplomatic mission in Iraq than a military one would be smooth.

“We’re going to be just fine. They’re going to be just fine,” he said during a brief photo opportunity at the U.S. Embassy, sitting next to Ambassador Jim Jeffrey and surrounded by top U.S. generals overseeing Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.

Wednesday’s ceremony will mark the start of “Operation New Dawn” – the beginning of the end of the American military’s mission in Iraq.

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 helping turn the tide in Iraq as it teetered on the brink of civil war. Also, U.S. troops will no longer be allowed to go on combat missions unless requested and accompanied by Iraqi forces.

Now, officials said, the American military will take a back seat to the State Department’s efforts to help Iraq’s security, economy and government stand alone as all U.S. troops leave by the end of 2011.

Yet Iraq’s political impasse has slowed U.S. efforts to help, Biden adviser Tony Blinken said. Without a new government in place, he said the United States is unable to put much pressure on the United Nations to lift sanctions on Iraq that have been in place since the 1991 invasion of Kuwait.


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