JUDY WOODRUFF: Vice President Biden spent the Fourth of July in Iraq. And he left today, after nudging Iraqi leaders toward forming a new government.
It was his fourth trip to Iraq as vice president. And it came with the country in the grips of a political stalemate that has lasted almost four months.
JOSEPH BIDEN, vice president of the United States: I remain, as I have, as you know, Andrea, from the beginning, extremely optimistic about a -- about a government being formed here that will be representative, represent all the major parties.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Biden met Sunday with current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and former Premier Ayad Allawi, the two men vying to lead Iraq.
After an inconclusive election last March, both Maliki's Shiite's bloc and Allawi's alliance backed by Sunnis claimed the right to form a new government. Today, a Kurdish leader, President Jalal Talabani, also met with Vice President Biden.
But there was no mention of any new proposals by the U.S., all of this as Iraq's political vacuum has raised concern that insurgents could reignite widespread sectarian fighting.
The vice president took note of these fears and remarks on Sunday, and he sounded a note of optimism.
JOSEPH BIDEN: This nation, once embroiled in sectarian strife and violence, is moving toward a lasting security and prosperity with a government that represents the interests of every member of the community in Iraq, because, until they get that straight -- and they are getting it straight -- there's no real shot they can become what they are capable of.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Biden also reaffirmed U.S. plans to officially conclude combat operations at the end of August, drawing down to 50,000 American troops from the current 77,000. Still, last night, insurgents fired mortar rounds into Baghdad's Green Zone, where the American Embassy is located.
MAN: Please remain undercover. There is still a threat of indirect fire.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Loudspeakers in the embassy warned workers to take cover, but no one was hurt and there was no damage. And, to the West, a woman blew herself up Sunday, killing four and injuring dozens at a government building in Ramadi.