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Iraq to mark U.S. pullback with a holiday

Iraqi shop owners clear debris a day after a motorcycle loaded with explosives blew up east of Baghdad. Seven blasts in and around Baghdad on Monday killed at least 24 and hurt scores.

Associated Press

Iraqi shop owners clear debris a day after a motorcycle loaded with explosives blew up east of Baghdad. Seven blasts in and around Baghdad on Monday killed at least 24 and hurt scores.

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government on Tuesday declared a public holiday to mark next week's withdrawal of American combat troops from Baghdad and other cities.

American forces already have begun pulling back from outposts inside the cities ahead of a June 30 deadline, the first phase of a full withdrawal by the end of 2011.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Tuesday that ceremonies will be held on Monday and the deadline itself will be a public holiday, although students will still have to take their final exams as scheduled.

The announcement comes days after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the U.S. withdrawal from the cities a "great victory," despite fears that violence will increase after the Americans become less visible.

The stakes are high for Maliki's Shiite-led government to prove it is capable of taking care of its people ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 30.

Overall violence has declined drastically over the past two years, but a series of recent high-profile bombings have raised concerns about the readiness of Iraqi forces to provide security around the country without the immediate help of the U.S. troops remaining in Iraq.

According to a security pact that came into force in January, most of the American troops will be housed on large bases outside the capital and other cities — unable to react unless called on for help by the Iraqis.

Civilian killed in crash: An Iraqi civilian was killed and another wounded Tuesday morning when a U.S. vehicle hit their motorcycle that had stalled on a road near the U.S. detention facility Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, the military said. Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, a spokesman for U.S. forces in southern Iraq, said it was a "tragic accident." Iraqi police are investigating the incident, the statement said.

Iraq to mark U.S. pullback with a holiday 06/23/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 11:56pm]
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