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As Iraq's security forces reclaimed the cities from US troops, attention turns to the mammoth task ahead.
“God damn the Americans – they’ve only brought us misery,” said a young man from Sadr City, dancing wildly to shake away a tedious day’s work as a laborer. He did concede that they had gotten rid of Saddam.
On Abu Nuwas street, Iraqi police trucks festooned with ribbons and flowers drove past families, who in turn strolled past cheerful banners put up by the Iraqi Communist Party congratulating Iraq on its new sovereignty.
There is no shortage of symbolism in Tuesday’s date, and U.S. and Iraqi officials are milking it for all that it’s worth.
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 and a car bomb in Kirkuk Tuesday killing dozens more, the attacks are not thought to pose the threat to the very survival of the Iraqi government or security forces that they did when the country descended into civil war.
Officials, though, are bracing for more attacks as insurgents test the Iraqi security forces’ ability to defend the cities without the U.S. boots on the ground.
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.