Iraq 'Independent' As The US Combat Operation Ends

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 otherwise. US Vice-President Joe Biden is in Iraq on an unannounced visit at the official end of the mission, at midnight (2100 GMT) on Tuesday. In the US, ahead of an address to the nation, President Barack Obama said there was still much work to be done."It is not going to be a victory lap. It is not going to be self-congratulatory," he said of his speech as he met troops in Texas. He also warned that there remained a "tough fight ahead in Afghanistan". The end to US combat operation comes despite continuing violence and instability in Iraq. The country's political leaders have so far failed to form a government after elections in March produced no conclusive winner. In his televised address, Mr Maliki told Iraqis: "Iraq today is sovereign and independent. "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." He assured Iraqis that the security forces were "capable and qualified to shoulder the responsibility". 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 - an umbrella organisation of Sunni militant groups to which al-Qaeda in Iraq belongs - to the US military sending its combat troops home, says the BBC's Hugh Sykes in Baghdad. In an interview with NBC News on Tuesday, Mr Obama said the "lower and lower levels of violence" in Iraq were proof that the Iraqi security forces were "functioning at least as well if not