Vice President Joseph Biden said Monday that the Iraqis are “absolutely” ready to take over full responsibility for securing their country as the U.S. proceeds with a planned drawdown of combat forces.

“They are ready. Absolutely they’re ready to take over,” Biden said in an interview with NBC News during his two-day trip to Iraq over the July 4th holiday.


As part of an agreement reached with the Iraqi government during the Bush administration, the U.S. is drawing down to 50,000 combat troops in Iraq this summer from a high of 145,000. The date of Aug. 31 will mark the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq.

“It’s well, well under way, and it’s working,” Biden said of the troop withdrawal.

Security concerns surrounding the U.S. pullout have been raised as Iraq struggles to form a government four months after parliamentary elections resulted in no party winning a clear majority.

“The hard part for them is forming this government,” the vice president said. He added, however, that “the caretaker government is doing a pretty damn good job on the security.”

Biden met with the leaders of the various parties battling for control, although the vice president and other administration officials have said that he emphasized that the U.S. has no preferred candidates or outcomes, and that it would not interfere in the forming of a government.

The security worries were underscored by an explosion that rocked the U.S. military compound in Bahgdad during Biden’s visit.

No one was hurt, and there was no reported damage, but “duck and cover” alarms were sounded in the American embassy.

Biden downplayed - and joked about - the incident.

“That’s not a big deal. It happens,” he said. Biden pointed out that “incidences are way down” across Iraq.

He said the explosion happened while he was debriefing U.S. officials on his meetings, and that he finished the briefings before following instructions from his security detail to seek cover.

“I covered. I pulled the cover over my head and went to bed,” Biden quipped.

The vice president also addressed the war in Afghanistan during the NBC interview. He defended President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaImmigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids More adult Twitter users follow Obama than Trump: survey Trump's no racist; he's an equal opportunity offender MORE’s decision to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus, calling the move “both brilliant and elegant” and likening it to “one of those old bad jokes about turning lemons into lemonade.”

Biden said it was premature to judge the success of the surge in American troops to the war front because not all of them are yet in place. And he tried to characterize the flashpoint July 2011 date for beginning a troop withdrawal as something in between a moving target and a hard end-date for the war.

“There is no question we will begin to draw down troops in July, but we’re not talking about a rush for the door. We’re talking about it based on conditions,” Biden said.

He also said Obama would not acquiesce to an “endless encounter” in Afghanistan and that he would shift gears if it became clear the strategy he set late last year wasn’t working.