Iraqi forces assume formal control of Baghdad and other cities June 20 as US troops hand over security in urban areas. A countdown clock broadcast on Iraqi TV ticked to zero as the midnight deadline passed for US combat troops to finish their pullback to bases outside cities. When the hour arrived, fireworks were set off in celebration. “The withdrawal of American troops is completed now from all cities after everything they sacrificed for the sake of security,” said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “We are now celebrating the restoration of sovereignty.” Al-Maliki declared a public holiday, proclaiming June 30 as “National Sovereignty Day.” (AP, June 29)
The US put a slightly different spin on the pullback mandated by last November’s Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). “We’re getting to one of the major milestones of the security agreement,” said Chris Hill, the US ambassador to Iraq. “As we go forward with the security agreement, we will also be moving ahead on something called the Strategic Framework Agreement. And this is an agreement which will really govern our relationship for, we hope, decades to come, that will involve our educational exchanges, economic relations, various political exchanges.” (Middle East Online, June 26)
Meanwhile, the Pentagon will be leaving behind a US-trained Iraqi force known as the Counter Terrorism Bureau—which has won the unofficial moniker of the “Dirty Brigade.” Formed shortly after the 2003 invasion to partner with US forces, the Bureau originally numbered about 4,500 members. It is reported to have doubled in size and now reports directly to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and is commanded by an Iraqi general, Kalib Shegati al-Kenani. It has been widely accused of rights abuses against Sunnis suspected of collaborating with the insurgency.
This charge is vigorously denied by the current command. “We are professional and not sectarian forces, and we bring together people from all sections of the population. Each member of the bureau signs a document vowing not to speak about sectarianism, partisan affairs and nationalities. Their commitment is only to Iraq,” said Gen. al-Kenani.
Al-Kenani, a veteran of the eight-year Iran-Iraq War and the 1991 Gulf War, is a Shi’ite; his deputy is a Sunni and one of his top generals is a Kurd. The force is said to be made up of Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds, although no precise breakdown was provided. A statement in Arabic posted on a US military Web site acknowledged the public’s “misconceptions about this very viable and important unit,” asserting that “the CTB’s mission is targeting terrorists, not the Iraqi public or political foes.” (AP, June 26)
See our last posts on Iraq, the sectarian war and the politics of withdrawal.
Insurgency or sectarian war?
You tell us. From AlJazeera, July 1:
See our last post on the struggle for Kirkuk.