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Biden Celebrates US Independence Day with Troops in Iraq

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spent the final day of his trip to Iraq celebrating the U.S. Independence Day holiday with American troops in Baghdad.

The vice president attended a ceremony Saturday at one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces for more than 200 soldiers from 59 countries who were becoming U.S. citizens.

Biden told the new citizens "you are the reason America is strong." He said Saddam, the former Iraqi dictator, is "rolling over in his grave right now."

The U.S. vice president had been scheduled to visit the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq later Saturday, but was forced to cancel those plans because of a severe sandstorm that blanketed Baghdad.

This is the first U.S. Independence Day celebration since the country withdrew its troops from Iraqi cities and towns. Biden warned Iraqi leaders the United States may not be around to help if Iraq is allowed to revert to sectarian violence.

On Friday, Biden told Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Iraq faces a "hard road" ahead if it is going to find lasting peace and security.

The U.S. vice president also said Mr. Maliki was correct in indicating that Iraq must use the political process to resolve its remaining differences.

Biden's visit comes as violence in Iraq reached its highest levels in about eight months. Hundreds of Iraqi supporters of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr marched through the Baghdad slum of Sadr City Friday, shouting and burning American flags.

Iraq's Defense Ministry says it already is looking ahead to the next phase of the U.S. troop withdrawal, which will see the U.S. remove about 100,000 troops from the region. About 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq to conduct combat duties outside cities, and to advise Iraqi forces within cities.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.