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U.S. Changes Military Commanders in Iraq Amid Debate Over Afghan Withdrawal

Vice President Joe Biden presided over a change-of-command ceremony in Iraq Wednesday marking the final phase of U.S. military involvement -- the hand-off comes amid fresh criticism of President Barack Obama's pledge to replicate such a transition in Afghanistan a year from now.

With the passing of a flag, newly promoted Army Gen. Lloyd Austin took over for Gen. Ray Odierno in Iraq. The handover marks the start of the so-called "Operation New Dawn." Combat operations have ended, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that the United States is no longer at war in Iraq.

Biden told assembled dignitaries and troops that the transfer of authority symbolizes a "different chapter in the relationship with Iraq."

The ceremony comes after Obama delivered an Oval Office address in which he declared it was time to "turn the page" on America's involvement in Iraq. In doing so, he pivoted to Afghanistan, where his administration is banking on a troop surge to lay the groundwork for an orderly withdrawal starting in July 2011.

But as with Iraq, the pledge to withdraw has sparked debate in Washington over whether deadlines -- even soft deadlines -- undermine U.S. efforts by encouraging insurgents to wait out the fight until foreign forces leave.







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