Iraq declares victory as US troops leave cities

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared victory on Saturday as the country began to end a foreign occupation with the withdrawl of US combat troops from cities, and told Iraqis not to lose faith if the pullback resulted in attacks. As part of a security pact signed between Baghdad and Washington last year, US combat forces must leave urban centres by June 30 and the entire force that invaded Iraq in 2003 must be gone by 2012.

“It is a great victory for Iraqis that we are taking the first step towards ending the foreign presence in Iraq,” Mr Maliki told a conference of leaders from the ethnic Turkmen community.

“I, and you, are sure that many don’t want us to succeed and celebrate this victory. They are getting themselves ready to move in the dark to destabilise the situation, but we will be ready for them, God willing.” A series of devastating bomb attacks in April cast doubt on the ability of Iraqi security forces to take over from US troops in protecting the population from mainly Sunni Islamist insurgents, including Al-Qaeda, and other violent groups.

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