US confident a day before leaving Iraqi cities

Celebrations begin in Baghdad as patriotic songs ring out from speakers mounted at police stations and military checkpoints.

Iraqi forces 248.88  (photo credit: AP)
Iraqi forces 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The top American commander in the Middle East expressed confidence Monday that Iraqi security forces were ready for Tuesday's US troop withdrawal from Iraqi cities. It comes despite a string of deadly bombings, which have killed more than 250 people in a little over a week and have raised concerns that violence will spike in Iraq's urban areas after the last US troops leave. But the Iraqi government has said its forces are prepared and has declared Tuesday "National Sovereignty Day," a public holiday that will be marked by festivities. The celebrations began Monday in Baghdad as patriotic songs rang out from speakers mounted at police stations and military checkpoints. Iraqi military vehicles decorated with flowers and Iraqi flags patrolled the city. US combat troops must withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30 according to a security agreement that also requires all American forces to leave the country by the end of 2011. Some Americans will remain in the cities as trainers and advisers, but the bulk of the more than 130,000 US troops in Iraq have assembled in large bases outside urban centers. The commander of US troops in the Middle East, Gen. David Petraeus, said there will be coordination centers in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra where American forces will share intelligence and respond to any Iraqi requests for help. He expressed concern about the recent spate of high-profile bombings but said the average daily number of attacks remained low at 10 to 15 compared with 160 in June 2007. "While certainly there will be challenges - there are many difficult political issues, social issues, governmental development issues - we feel confident in the Iraqi security forces continuing the process of taking over the security tasks in their own country," said Petraeus after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. US and Iraqi officials have warned they expect more violence in the coming days as militants try to undermine confidence in the government. But Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari expressed confidence Monday that Iraqi forces will be able to enforce security and declared June 30 "an important day in Iraq's history ... that will pave the way for the complete withdrawal of US and foreign forces from Iraq." "The Iraqi government is confident of the capabilities of our armed and security forces to handle security issues and control the situation despite the attacks and explosions carried by terrorist groups and these attacks will not affect the process" of withdrawal, said Zebari. The Iraqi government plans to hold a large party Tuesday in one of Baghdad's main parks on the west side of the Tigris River that will include popular singers and fireworks. The celebration will be broadcast on the other side of the river on a giant screen that was being installed Monday. Elsewhere in Iraq, two deadly incidents served as a reminder that militants have not given up their efforts to disrupt the improving stability over the last two years. Five police officers and a Kurdish soldier were killed Monday after a car bomb exploded as they were trying to defuse it, according to police and hospital officials. Another two officers died in Mosul trying to defuse a bomb hidden under a small bridge, police said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information. In Baghdad, the government has bolstered security: banning motorcycles - which were used in three deadly bombings - beefing up checkpoints and identity checks. But Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said authorities did not intend to declare a curfew. "The success achieved today should not let us forget the big challenges ahead of us because building the state is a bigger challenge than its liberation," Iraqi Parliament Speaker Ayad al-Samarraie told a news conference.