Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says his country's security forces are ready to assume full responsibility of keeping Iraq and its citizens safe.  

In a nationally televised speech, Mr. Maliki said Iraq is a "sovereign and independent" state.  He commented Tuesday, as U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to mark the end of U.S. combat operations in the country, seven years after the U.S.-led invasion.

Mr. Obama is flying to an army post in Fort Bliss, Texas, Tuesday, to meet with soldiers who deployed to Iraq during the mission.  He will then return to Washington to deliver a nationally broadcast speech from the White House to discuss the end of the combat phase and the new advisory and training role for the U.S. military.  

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Iraq for talks with Iraqi leaders.  He will preside over a formal change-of-command ceremony Wednesday, to mark the start of "Operation New Dawn."

The U.S. mission in Iraq has claimed the lives of more than 4,400 U.S. troops.  More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the conflict.

Just under 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, down from a peak of nearly 170,000 at the height of the 2007 military surge.  American forces will no longer be allowed to go on combat missions unless requested and accompanied by Iraqi forces.

President Obama has pledged to remove all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.  

Tuesday's milestone comes as Iraq faces a period of political deadlock over forming the country's next government, the result of inconclusive general elections six months ago.  

Iraq is on high alert for attacks by insurgents after a series of bombings killed dozens of people and underscored the fragility of Iraq's recent security gains.


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