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Biden travels to Iraq to mark end of U.S. combat mission

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Biden visits Baghdad
  • NEW: Biden confident in the ability of Iraqi leaders to forge a new ruling coalition
  • GOP House Leader John Boehner will discuss the Iraq mission on Tuesday
  • Biden arrived in Iraq Monday to help mark the end of the U.S. combat mission there
  • Obama will deliver an Oval Office address on the Iraq conflict on Tuesday night
  • Iraq
  • Joe Biden

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Iraq on Monday to participate in a ceremony marking the end of the U.S. combat mission there, according to the White House.

He was greeted in Baghdad by U.S. Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, outgoing U.S. commander Gen. Ray Odierno and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

While in the country, Biden will meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi and other political leaders "to discuss the latest developments in Iraq and to urge Iraqi leaders to conclude negotiations on the formation of a new government," the White House said in a written statement.

The vice president downplayed concerns over the inability of Iraqi officials to form a new ruling coalition in the wake of last March's closely contested national elections.

"We are going to be just fine," he told reporters. "They are going to be just fine."

While in Iraq, Biden will also help mark the transfer of U.S. military command from Odierno to Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, which will take place on Wednesday.

The United States' official combat mission in Iraq is scheduled to conclude on Tuesday. Roughly 50,000 troops, however, will remain in the country until the end of 2011. Their mission will be to will train, assist and advise the Iraqis.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver an Oval Office address on the seven-year Iraqi conflict on Tuesday night.

"As a candidate for this office, I pledged I would end this war. As president, that is what I am doing," Obama said Saturday in his weekly address.

"The bottom line is this: the war is ending. Like any sovereign, independent nation, Iraq is free to chart its own course. And by the end of next year, all of our troops will be home," the president added.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, is also expected to address the war in Iraq on Tuesday. Boehner will remind an American Legion audience in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that Obama and other Democratic leaders opposed former President George W. Bush's troop surge there, according to a Boehner aide.

While administration officials have touted what they claim is a gradual decline in the overall level of violence in Iraq, the country has recently been the target of a series of attacks.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned last Friday of the likelihood of continuing attacks across the country and put all local governments and security forces on high alert.

In a statement read on state television, al-Maliki -- commander-in-chief of the Iraqi Armed Forces -- said there were indications that "al Qaeda and remnants of the Baath party with foreign backing are planning to carry out a series of bombings in Baghdad and the other provinces."

The statement, which came shortly before midnight in Iraq, said the attacks would strike across the country, targeting government institutions in particular.

The prime minister's warning came two days after a wave of 20 bomb attacks struck 13 Iraqi cities, mostly targeting police. The bombs killed 48 and wounded at least 286.

Last Wednesday's attacks increased fears among Iraqis about the ability of their security forces to protect them after the U.S. withdrawal.

The attacks were a show of force for the insurgency, which has been dealt major blows over the past two years. The bombing campaign proved insurgents' ability to hit key targets in what appears to have been a highly coordinated effort stretching from Basra in the far south to Mosul in the north.

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