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Iraqi "independence day" arrives

Despite upsurge in violence, US says conditions for withdrawal from major cities have been met.

The company commander from the Iraqi Emergency Response Battalion discusses operations after the U.S. pullout from cities with his American Army counterpart in Mosul. (Jane Arraf/GlobalPost)

BAGHDAD — A convoy of the Iraqi Army's Romanian-built tanks stretches out along the road to the Baghdad airport, ready to roll should the June 30 festivities — billed as a new Iraqi independence day — not go entirely as planned.

On Abu Nuwas street near the river, members of the Iraqi Communist Party are cheerfully putting up banners on a wire fence celebrating the "Day of National Sovereignty" — Iraq’s newest national holiday.

There is no shortage of symbolism in Tuesday’s date — the deadline in the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement for the withdrawal of American combat forces from the cities. U.S. and Iraqi officials are milking it for all that it’s worth.

“We are on the threshold of a new phase,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said this week.

It’s a turnaround for the U.S., which long insisted on a conditions-based withdrawal of its forces rather than a deadline. Top military commanders now say those conditions have been met — that Iraqi security forces are more competent than they were a year ago, and that the military surge which helped dramatically cut attacks in Baghdad has laid the groundwork for sustained security.

Despite the horrific spike in violence that killed more than 250 Iraqis in the last week, the attacks are not thought to pose the threat to the very survival of the Iraqi government or security forces they did when the country descended into civil war.

Officials, though, are bracing for more attacks around the Tuesday deadline from insurgents eager to test Iraq’s security capability.

And north of Baghdad, in the places where Sunni insurgents fled when they were driven out of the capital, it’s still a daily fight for Iraqi soldiers and police.

In Iraq’s second biggest city, Mosul, the new provincial governor, no fan of coalition forces, agreed last week that U.S. forces could keep five bases within the city where they work next to Iraqi forces. Instead of combat outposts, the bases will be known as joint security stations.

It’s an acknowledgement that although neither side likes to admit it, the country whose security forces the United States either destroyed or disbanded six years ago is not ready to stand entirely on its feet.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/iraq/090629/iraq-independence-day