Iraq ready to take over security from US troops, Maliki says

Appeals for unity after deadly week

By Patrick Quinn
Associated Press / June 28, 2009
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BAGHDAD - Iraq’s prime minister said yesterday that the full withdrawal of US combat troops from cities and towns was a message that his country was ready to take over its own security, even as he appealed for national unity after a week of attacks left more than 250 people dead.

Both of Iraq’s vice presidents joined in the call, with one of them warning Iraqis to stay away from crowded places favored by bombers.

There have been concerns that Iraqi forces will not be able to provide adequate security after US combat troops completely pull out of Baghdad and other urban areas by June 30, part of a security agreement that calls for all American troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. Under the agreement, which took effect Jan. 1, US troops have taken a secondary role, giving Iraqi forces the lead in operations.

Yesterday, few if any of the 133,000 US troops still in Iraq were visible in its cities, with most already having pulled out of urban centers in recent weeks. They have assembled in large bases outside urban centers and will continue to conduct combat operations in rural areas and near the border.

“We are on the threshold of a new phase that will bolster Iraq’s sovereignty,’’ Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said at a memorial service for a Shi’ite leader who died six years ago. He added that June 30 was “a message to the world that we are now able to safeguard our security and administer our internal affairs.’’

Police said they had bolstered checkpoints and patrols, especially in Shi’ite areas of Baghdad where bombers have targeted markets with deadly effect. Nearly all the bombings that began on June 20 have been in Shi’ite areas, including the two deadliest attacks. They were a June 20 bombing that killed 82 people outside a mosque in northern Iraq, and another on June 24 in the Shiite enclave of Sadr City that killed 78.

Maliki attributed the bombings to the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq and said they were aimed at restarting violence between Shi’ites and Sunnis. “Today we are in need of unity, as they have shown their teeth against us,’’ Maliki said of the extremists responsible for the attacks. “Our system falls when we return to sectarianism.’’

Iraq nearly slipped into civil war in 2006 and 2007, and tens of thousands of people died in attacks between Sunni extremists such as Al Qaeda and Shi’ite militias and death squads. It was brought back from the brink by an inflow of US troops in 2007 in what was known as the surge.