The US Marine Corps wrapped nearly 7 years in Iraq today, handing over duties to the Army in a ceremony in Ramadi, and signaling the beginning of an accelerated withdrawal of American troops. The last remaining Marines are expected to be followed out by tens of thousands of soldiers in the coming months, leaving just 50,000 troops in the country by Aug. 31. Most are scheduled to depart after the March 7 parliamentary election.
In Baghdad, Vice President Joe Biden held talks with Iraqi leaders amid growing tensions over plans to blacklist as many as 500 election candidates with suspected links to Saddam Hussein's regime.The White House worries the bans could raise questions over the fairness of the elections, which are seen as an important step in the American pullout timetable. As many as 25,000 Marines were in Iraq at the peak of fighting, mostly in Anbar province, where the hand-off today occurred.