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Iraq marks full sovereignty with a parade

As Iraq's security forces reclaimed the cities from US troops, attention turns to the mammoth task ahead.

BAGHDAD — History rolled out past a reviewing stand Tuesday where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his defense minister stood watching Iraqi tanks, trucks and the pride of Iraq’s security forces, now wholly responsible for securing Iraq’s cities.

It was the same parade ground near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where we used to watch Saddam oversee his own huge huge shows of force against a backdrop of crossed swords held by models of his own fists.

This one, marking the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraqi cities Tuesday, was more benign. The two helicopters and boats wheeled past were just a hint of the full-fledged air force and navy that Iraq hopes to acquire once it gets more oil out of the ground. But it’s the soldiers, police, special forces, firemen and cadets that are at the heart of whether this country overcomes the civil war it has emerged from and the legacy of decades of dictatorship.

“It’s a great day — the first day we’re taking responsibility for our own security,” said Salah Naman Habee, from the National Police, an organization that has gone from commanders who ran Shiite death squads three years ago to a credible force.

“Those who think that Iraqis are unable to defend their country are committing a fatal mistake,” Maliki said.

But the question isn’t really whether Iraqis can defend their country — it’s what kind of country they will feel compelled to defend. Whether they can build a nation that encompasses all the ethnic and sectarian aspirations of its people is still an open question.

“We must remember that this is about politics,” said Iraqi deputy prime minister Barham Salah, who is giving up the post to run for office in Kurdistan. “This is about the political facts that will unite Iraqis — without that no matter how much security services you have and how much capability you have it will not be that high level.”

Even at celebrations in Baghdad on Monday night on the eve of the "Day of National Sovereignty," it was about politics for many of the revellers.