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Middle East
US forces pull out of Iraqi cities
Car bomb kills up to 40 in Kirkuk as Iraqi forces assume control in urban areas.
Last Modified: 23 Jul 2009 20:34 GMT

Tuesday's explosion at a Kirkuk market underlines the security challenges facing Iraq [AFP]

Iraqi forces have assumed formal control of the capital, Baghdad, and other cities, six years after US-led coalition forces invaded Iraq.

But as Iraq marked the occasion by celebrating Tuesday as Sovereignty Day, a car bomb killed up to 40 people and wounded 100 others in the northern city of Kirkuk, serving a grim reminder to the security challenges that Iraqis face following US troop pullout.

US troops withdrew from the country's major cities and towns as the midnight deadline passed on Tuesday, leaving security in the hands of Iraqi forces.

"The withdrawal of American troops is completed now from all cities, after everything they sacrificed for the sake of security," Sadiq al-Rikabi, a senior adviser to Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, said.

He told the Associated Press news agency that Iraq is "now celebrating the restoration of sovereignty".

Al-Maliki described the US withdrawal as a "turning point" for the country and declared Tuesday a public holiday.

'Sense of anxiety'

In depth


 Video: Security handover leaves Iraqis cautious
 Video: Iraq hails 'Sovereignty Day'
 Video: US troops suffer Iraq trauma
 Video: Security handover ignites concern in Iraq
 Video: Iraq security concerns grow over US pullout
 Video: Residents afraid to return to Baghdad district
 Video: Fear of violence grips Mosul
 Video: Iraq blast mars US pullout
 Interview: Most Iraqi provinces 'safe'
 Your views: US troop pullouts
 Focus: Pinning hopes on the Iraqi army
 Focus: The scramble for Iraq's 'sweet oil'
 Riz Khan: US troops pull back in Iraq
 Inside Iraq

But Al Jazeera's Hoda-Abdel Hamid, reporting from Iraq, said: "[Despite] the impression of a withdrawal and a return to sovereignty... there is a sense of anxiety in the air.

"Security measures are tighter and some streets sealed off.

"People here are extremely nervous ... they're trying to figure out if more roadside bombs are planted."

But Mahmoud Almusafir, a former Iraqi diplomat, told Al Jazeera: "For me and all the Iraqis, this is the day the Americans confessed that they can't go more in Iraq, and they can't control the cities, they can't control Iraq.

"This is ... [US] face-saving, telling the people of the world that we are not killing Iraqis anymore and letting the government have a proxy war on their behalf."

Asked whether he feared Iraqis will start killing other Iraqis after the withdrawal, he replied: "This is American propaganda. They try to sell it to the world and unfortunately the world bought it.

"There are no Iraqis killing Iraqis. Iraqis - Sunnis, Shias ... have lived together for hundreds of years.

'Too insulted'

"The problem is American propaganda started at the beginning to control the city and this divided everyone ... unfortunately the politicians implemented this policy - the politicians who came with the Americans in 2003."

US troops levels in Iraq



 2003: 175,000 - original invasion force
 2004: 108,000 - US starts withdrawal
 2007: 168,000 - increase in violence
 2009: 131,000 - troop levels trimmed

 Early 2010: 128,000
 August 2010: 35,000 - 50,000
 2011: Complete withdrawal

Fireworks continued to light up the sky over Baghdad into the early hours on Tuesday, after thousands of Iraqis, an unprecedented number for a public post-war event, attended a party in a park where singers performed patriotic songs.

"All of us are happy - Shias, Sunnis and Kurds on this day ... the Americans harmed and insulted us too much," Waleed al-Bahadili, an Iraqi attending the celebrations, told the AFP news agency.

Many Iraqis ignored an appeal by Tariq al-Hashemi, the Iraqi vice-president, to stay away from crowded places during the US pullback, after more than 250 people were killed in bombings over the past 10 days.

Scattered bases

Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa)


 US forces will partner with the Iraqi army to continue to keep roads clear of road side bombs
 Logistical convoys belonging to the US military will move only at night
 US advisory teams will be embedded with units of the Iraqi army and police
 US forces will continue to carry out combat operations in rural areas only with the approval of Iraqi officials
 No detention or search operations will be carried out without a legal warrant from an Iraqi judge

Motorcycles have been banned indefinitely in Baghdad after they were used last week in three separate attacks, killing more than 100 people.

Despite the formal pullback, some US troops will remain in cities to train and advise Iraqi forces. US forces are also ready to return if asked.

The US military is to continue combat operations in rural areas and near the border with the permission of the Iraqi government.

The US has not said how many troops will be in the cities in advisory roles, but the vast majority of the more than 130,000 US troops forces remaining in the country will be in large bases scattered outside cities.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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