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Iraq ‘independent’ as US combat operations end
Baghdad, Aug 31 (Agencies):
Published on 1 Sep. 2010 1:19 AM IST
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Iraq's prime minister has said the country is "independent" as the US formally ends combat operations.
Nouri Maliki said the country's security forces would now deal with all threats, domestic or other.
US Vice-President Joe Biden is in Iraq on an unannounced visit ahead of the official end of the mission, at midnight (2100 GMT) on Tuesday. In the US, President Barack Obama is due to deliver a televised address about Iraq to the American people.
"Iraq today is sovereign and independent," Mr Maliki told Iraqis in a televised address. "Our security forces will take the lead in ensuring security and safeguarding the country and removing all threats that the country has to weather, internally or externally."
Violence in Iraq is down from the peak seen during the sectarian conflict in 2006-2007, although the number of civilian deaths rose sharply in July.
Almost daily attacks on Iraqi forces and traffic police in Baghdad and Anbar province, west of the capital, killed more than 85 people in the first three weeks of August.
These attacks may be a response by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq (a branch of al-Qaeda) to the Americans sending all their combat troops home, says the BBC's Hugh Sykes in Baghdad.
One Baghdad resident, Ilifat, said, as long as any US soldiers remained in Iraq, he would consider it to be occupied.
"When the last US soldier leaves Iraqi bases and no US base remains in the country, we will say that the US troops have withdrawn," he told Reuters news agency.
"Now the US army is still here and the country is occupied, and it will remain occupied. The country is also too weak."
The last US combat brigade left Iraq nearly two weeks ago, well ahead of the 31 August target set by President Obama to cut the number of US troops in Iraq below 50,000.
Around 50,000 US troops will remain in Iraq and will focus on supporting Iraqi forces. They will not participate in combat missions without a request from the Iraqi authorities, or if they are acting in self-defence.
The new Iraqi air force is still in its infancy, our correspondent adds.
Air cover for Iraqi ground operations is provided almost exclusively by US planes and helicopters, he says.
All US forces must be gone by the end of next year.

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