DTN News: Iraqis Take Control As U.S. Troops Leave Cities
DTN News: Iraqis Take Control As U.S. Troops Leave Cities*Sources: DTN News / Int'l Media
(NSI News Source Info) BAGHDAD, Iraq - June 30, 2009: Iraqi forces prepared to take control of towns and cities nationwide on June 30 as American troops withdrew in a milestone for the country's recovery six years after the U.S.-led invasion. Iraqi army tanks take part in a parade in Baghdad's Green Zone, June 30, 2009. U.S. combat troops left the last of Iraq's cities on Tuesday, restoring to the country a proud sense of sovereignty that many applauded even though some fear it may leave them more vulnerable to attacks.
Baghdad's streets were quiet and traffic much lighter than usual as people stayed at home for a national holiday to mark the June 30 pullback, ahead of a complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the nation's joy at the handover was mixed with sorrow for "beloved friends and relatives" who had been "targeted by terror."
But he also took aim at critics of the Iraqi security forces, saying the nation's army and police were up to the task of defending the country in the wake of the U.S. pullout.
"It is a big mistake for people to think that the Iraqis will not handle the security issue," Maliki said.
"It is an offence to the Iraqis. The people who said that the foreign troops would never withdraw and would keep permanent bases in our country were giving a green light to the terrorists to kill civilians."
Iraqis had celebrated into the night on June 29, but soldiers and police were out in force to prevent insurgent groups spoiling the party as American troops left their posts in urban centers.
President Jalal Talabani, meanwhile, thanked U.S. forces for the sacrifices they made in overthrowing now executed dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, and in the years of violence that followed.
"They bore the burden and dangers against the most cruel regime and against the mutual enemy - the terror," Talabani said on state television.
The handover coincided with a U.S. Army announcement that four of its soldiers died from combat-related injuries on June 29, taking to 4,321 the number of American troops killed since the invasion.
The pullout is part of a landmark security agreement signed in November between Baghdad and Washington covering the fate of the 133,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq.
In the wake of bombings that have already killed more than 200 people this month, all leave for Iraqi security personnel has been canceled.
Motorcycles, a favored form of transport for several recent bombers, have also been banned from the streets.
Across Baghdad, tanks and armored vehicles manned by soldiers and police were decorated with artificial flowers, flags and banners, as nationalistic songs and popular music played.
"We are happy to receive the security responsibilities and we are able to totally protect our citizens," said policeman Ibrahim al-Mashhadani.
Abu Mustapha, a carpenter, added: "I believe that the security of the nation will improve when the U.S. forces leave."
On Monday, the former defense ministry building in the capital, taken over in the wake of the invasion, was handed back to the Iraqi government.
"This marks the end of the rule of the multinational force," said Gen. Abboud Qambar, the head of Baghdad Operation Command.
The security shake-up was celebrated by huge crowds in Baghdad's largest park on the evening of June 29.
Revelers had to undergo three security checks to enter but no one seemed to complain amid a jubilant atmosphere, where an onstage banner declared that Baghdad's sovereignty and independence had been recovered.
Even policemen joined in the fun, dancing with the partygoers.
Maliki warned earlier this month that insurgent groups and militias were likely to step up attacks in the run-up to June 30 in a bid to undermine confidence in Iraq's own security forces.
There have been several huge bombings since, the deadliest near the northern oil hub of Kirkuk on June 20 when a truck loaded with explosives was detonated, leaving 72 people dead and more than 200 wounded.
Only a small number of U.S. forces in training and advisory roles will remain in urban areas, with the bulk of American troops in Iraq quartered elsewhere.
The Status of Forces Agreement, which set the pullback deadline, says U.S. commanders must seek permission from Iraqi authorities to conduct operations, but American troops retain a unilateral right to "legitimate self-defense."