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Biden Says Iraq 'Close' To Forming New Government

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (left) welcomes U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to Baghdad on August 31.
Visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has said he believes Iraqi leaders are "close" to forming a new government that will represent the "divided" outcome of the disputed March parliamentary elections.

Biden is in Iraq with Defense Secretary Robert Gates to celebrate the start of Operation New Dawn, the U.S. military's new mission to assist and advise Iraqi forces.

The visit is being widely seen as an opportunity for U.S. officials to press Iraq on the formation of a new government after six months of political deadlock.

Biden urged Iraqi leaders to resolve their differences and form a new government.

"It is not our place to tell the Iraqis who should lead, but I strongly urge them to match the courage that their citizens have shown by bringing this process to a close and forming a government," Biden said. "And I trust they will do so soon."

The ceremony in Baghdad came after President Barack Obama on August 31 formally declared that the United States had ended combat operations in Iraq.

compiled from agency reports