Deadline Nears For Iraqi Security Handover

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By Tuesday, all but a small number of U.S. troops are to have left Iraq's urban areas, leaving security in the hands of Iraqi soldiers and police. Americans will take a supporting and advisory role. Iraqis and Americans are greeting the day with a mix of relief and anxiety.

DAVID GREENE, host:

Now to Iraq, where tomorrow marks a major change in America's war effort there. After six years of military occupation, U.S. combat soldiers will officially withdraw from Iraqi cities, in accordance with a treaty between the two countries. In theory, Iraqi forces are now capable of taking over security, and Americans will take a supporting and advisory role. Iraqis and Americans are greeting the day with a mix of relief and anxiety, as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from Baghdad.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has declared June 30th a national holiday to celebrate Iraq's sovereignty. Unfortunately, a sobering string of bombings has overshadowed the weeks leading up to the withdrawal.

(Soundbite of traffic)

LAWRENCE: An American patrol arrived a few hours after one recent attack in Sadr City, the vast Shiite slum in eastern Baghdad. A shallowly covered bomb exploded under a minibus carrying students to school, killing three of them. Nonetheless, the American drawdown is on schedule, says one of the soldiers at the scene.

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah. My experience here in the past seven months working in this area of Baghdad, the forces that I've worked with, I think, are completely capable in what they're doing.

LAWRENCE: You guys are going to be moving out of Sadr City, right?

Unidentified Man #1: Actually, the details change every day. So it's hard to give anyone any concrete information.

LAWRENCE: Indeed, American officials have presented more generalities than specifics about the withdrawal. Combat troops will pull back to bases outside the cities, but leave many American trainers and advisors. In Mosul and Kirkuk, U.S. bases will stay put on what the Iraqi government has agreed to consider outside city limits.

In Baghdad, American officials still seem to be negotiating over key outposts inside the city. U.S. troops will be standing by to assist Iraqi forces, but supply runs and other patrols will happen at night or with an emphasis that the Iraqis are in the lead. That last part, anyhow, is very popular around Sadr City. An Iraqi policeman on guard near the bomb sight, Mohammed Hassan(ph), says the sooner the Americans go, the better.

Mr. MOHAMMED HASSAN (Iraqi Policeman): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: The Americans haven't helped at all, says Hassan. He credits Prime Minister Maliki with putting down the sectarian militias in Baghdad. Despite the dramatic improvements in security after the U.S. troop surge, his view is repeated by many, and not just in a poor Shiite area like Sadr City. In the Sunni-dominated district of Adhamiyah, the Americans' departure is also welcome news. Wamid Nadhmi is a political scientist who lives in Adhamiyah on the famous Cornish along the Tigris River.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in foreign language)

LAWRENCE: Once a killing field of sectarian violence, Adhamiyah is now quiet, and a prayer from a mosque echoes along the river bank.

Dr. WAMID NADHMI (Political Scientist): A lot of people think that all (unintelligible) problems were due to the Americans persons and perhaps even introduced by the Americans.

LAWRENCE: Nadhmi is somewhat reassured that Americans will remain on call to assist Iraqi forces, and he thinks they will still have a strong influence on Iraqi politics. He hopes Iraq's factions are tired of sectarian fighting. But in this part of Baghdad, the credit goes not to the Shiite-led government, but to the Awakening, Sunni fighters who joined the Americans to defeat al-Qaida and guard their own neighborhoods. People here are cautiously returning to public spaces, like this recently opened shopping mall.

Um Omar(ph) has come out to have ice cream with her children, and she says she's not worried about the American departure.

Ms. UM OMAR: (Through Translator) We're not worried. The Awakening forces are still there, and the situation is better now.

LAWRENCE: But the mall's manager, Abdul Cutter al-Dulami(ph) is less sanguine. He said that Iraq's security forces aren't ready and they're still riddled with sectarian divisions.

Mr. ABDUL CUTTER AL-DULAMI (Mall Manager): (Through Translator) I think the American withdrawal will be a disaster, and we'll go back to square one. Everybody knows the situation is better because of the Awakening men, and now they will be marginalized.

LAWRENCE: Dulami says that the Shiite-dominated government hasn't yet found jobs for the mainly Sunni Awakening fighters. Some have even been thrown in jail. Without the U.S. troops, says Dulami, the actions will fall back to blood-letting. In the south Baghdad neighborhood of Dura, Sheikh Mustafa Kamal(ph) is one Awakening leader who says he fears arrest. He thinks the American pullout heralds a betrayal of the Sunni fighters.

Sheikh MUSTAFA KAMAL (Awakening Leader): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: I want you to tell General Petraeus and the former U.S. president, he says, that we demand they keep promises they made to us. As this survey of Baghdad's neighborhoods suggests, the withdrawal from Iraq's cities keeps a promise to some and breaks one to others.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.

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