Vice President Biden, declaring Monday that Al Qaeda in Iraq and its extremist allies have "utterly failed" to inflame widespread violence, said Iraqis are ready to "take charge" of their country as U.S. combat troops leave.
Despite concerns about a political impasse in the country, the vice president said he's "confident" the leaders will resolve their differences. In an address marking the final drawdown of U.S. combat troops, he said the U.S. military has made "extraordinary progress" and is taking a "major step" this month.
To those who warned that the drawdown would open the door for destabilizing violence, Biden said: "They were wrong, because the Iraqis are ready to take charge."
The vice president used the speech to both address the progress in Iraq while rallying support for the remaining military mission in Afghanistan, where Gen. David Petraeus recently took charge amid a troop buildup. "Don't buy into, 'We have failed in Afghanistan,'" Biden said. "We now are only beginning with the right general and the right number of forces."
With regard to Iraq, Biden pledged a resolution to the ongoing political dispute over the March 7 elections. He said the political parties of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and former Premier Ayad Allawi must form the "nucleus" of the next government, complete with a formal written agreement on power-sharing.
"It's time for them to match the courage of their citizens by completing this process," Biden said. "I'm absolutely confident that Iraq will form a national unity government that will be able to sustain that country."
The administration's point man for Iraq said the U.S. military would next transition from a combat role to "advise, assist, train and equip" the national security forces in Iraq. He pledged the government's full support for returning veterans.
His speech before a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Indianapolis serves as a prelude to an address President Obama is expected to make on Iraq before the last of the U.S. combat forces leave by Aug. 31.
The speech is the beginning of an administration push to show the Iraqis are ready to go it alone, as the last of the U.S. combat forces leave the country after an eight-year war. Sept. 1 marks the start of a new operation in Iraq for the United States military named "New Dawn."
"It's not like 90,000 combat forces left in August," a senior official said. "This has been going on for months and the Iraqis have stepped up. That's a big part of the progress the vice president will talk about."
But some within Iraq say they are not ready to be on their own, especially militarily. Lt.General Babakar Zebari told AFP in Baghdad if he had it his way, troops would not be exiting Iraq -- at least not yet. "If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the U.S. Army must stay until the Iraqi Army is fully ready in 2020," Zebari said.
It's a sentiment echoed by those who have spent time watching Iraq transform since the war began in 2003. "Going down to zero U.S. military units by the end of next year, as currently envisioned, is too absolute and too fast. The calming, confidence-building role they play remains important and will probably stay that way," Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute wrote in The New York Times.
Regardless of opposition, Obama has planned for this transition since 2009. In remarks at Camp Lejeune in February of that year, he outlined a thorough plan by his administration with the target date of Aug. 31, 2010, for the end of all combat troops. In the same remarks, Obama did specify a "transitional force" of 50,000 troops would stay behind to help train and work with Iraqi security forces. At the time of those remarks it was hoped the Iraqi government would have made more progress on their coalition government.
Elections held in March produced no outright winner, and while parties agreed Friday to resume talks of a coalition government, that has produced worry among some in and out of the country.
Those in the Obama administration, including Biden and his advisers, are hopeful, recalling that it took six months for a government to form after the last Iraqi election.
"This time around, as it happens, the election was extraordinarily close. The top two coalitions are divided by a grand total of two seats. And so almost by definition, we knew it was going to take some time," said Tony Blinken, national security adviser to Biden. "But there's a big difference between this time and last time, and that is that the government, the interim government or caretaker government that's in place, has been doing what we hoped it would do and what the Iraqi people needed it to do, which is basically take care of business."
Nonetheless, it was Biden -- whose son Beau served a yearlong deployment in Iraq -- who predicted during a visit to Iraq over the Fourth of July weekend that the Iraqis would reach an agreement on a government by the end of summer. That hasn't yet happened.
While there are some reports out of Iraq that its people feel the U.S. is more focused on the withdrawing of its own troops rather than the stability of the Iraqi country, the Obama administration has underscored its long-term commitment to Iraq.
Fox News' Eve Zibel, Major Garrett and Anne McGinn contributed to this report.