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By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden called Iraq’s prime minister Monday to try to smooth over a rough exchange of words between the two governments after the fall of important cities to Islamic State militants in recent days.

In his call with Prime Minister Haider Abadi, Biden paid respects to “the enormous sacrifice and bravery” of Iraqi fighters over the past 18 months of fighting, particularly around Ramadi, in western Iraq, according to a White House account of the call. Ramadi and Palmyra, in Syria, both fell to the militant group over the last week.

The vice president’s soft words followed much harsher ones from Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who said on Sunday that Iraqi forces lacked a “will to fight” and had failed in Ramadi even though they had superior numbers.

While Biden praised the Iraqi fighters in his phone call, he also reiterated the critical points of President Barack Obama’s plan for assisting the Iraqi government. The United States stands ready to help by providing training and equipment, he said, according to the White House account.

The administration has insisted in recent days that Obama is not looking to send U.S. military forces to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, an approach that some Republicans have advocated. Carter on Sunday defended Obama’s approach.

Obama traveled to Arlington National Cemetery on Monday to pay respects to military service members on Memorial Day. In his remarks, the president noted that this Memorial Day is “the first since our war in Afghanistan came to an end.”

“Today is the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war,” he said.

“Most Americans don’t fully see, don’t fully understand the sacrifice made by the 1 percent who serve in this all-volunteer armed forces_a sacrifice that preserves the freedoms we too often take for granted,” Obama said. “Few know what it’s like to take a bullet for a buddy, or to live with the fact that he or she took one for you.”

“It is a debt we can never fully repay, but it is a debt we will never stop trying to fully repay,” he said.

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

File photo: April 24, 2010, Iraq’s Day of Commitment. The ceremony was hosted by the Iraqi government at Al Faw Palace, in Baghdad, as U.S. forces continued to draw out of Iraq. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, took the opportunity to thank U.S. and Iraqi service members for all of their sacrifices that led to the end of an almost decade long war. Photo by Staff Sgt. Caleb Barrieau. Via Flickr

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