Iraqis celebrate US troops' pullback
Amid a huge display of national pride, some expressed concerns that violence could spike again.
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Beyond basic security, Iraqi leaders are looking ahead to the complex problems of powersharing and the other elements of sustained stability.
"If I were to compare where we were today to where we were four, five years ago, the progress is undeniable and is very impressive. But we still have some very serious problems," says Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salah. "We really need to attend to the politics quickly, that's No. 1. No. 2 is, we really cannot be complacent, because this enemy that we are fighting is still tenacious, ruthless, and will stop at nothing to disrupt what we have gained."
The US says four American soldiers were killed Monday in Baghdad, but gave no details on the attack on what was otherwise a relatively quiet day ahead of Tuesday's national holiday.
At Zawraa park in Baghdad on Monday night, several hundred young men and a few families came out to celebrate at what quickly became a dance party.
"I'm very happy," said Ali Ghareeb, gyrating wildly with his buddies, one of them wrapped in an Iraqi flag He then cursed American forces.
He and his friends, from Sadr City, said US soldiers had broken down doors in their neighborhood and made Iraqis uncomfortable walking in their own streets.
Concerns in less stable areas
Others said that, without US troops to back up the fledgling Iraqi forces, attacks would inevitably increase.
"The Americans are controlling the situation. When they leave, I'm afraid the violence will start again," said Shayma Kareem, whose family has lived in the mostly Shiite al-Amal neighborhood of Baghdad for the past five years, after being driven out of Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, by sectarian fighting.
Security has improved dramatically in Iraq since the country pulled back from the brink of civil war two years ago. But fears that the American pullout is premature runs highest in areas that are still unsettled.
In Kirkuk, north of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded in a busy market on Tuesday killing 25 people and wounding more than 40.
In Mosul, where Iraqi and US troops have been fighting an active insurgency, Mayor Zuhair al-Aaraji said last week that he had rejected a proposal to hold June 30 celebrations.
"I told them, 'You can go and celebrate, I'm not participating,' " he said. "I'm going to celebrate when the situation really stabilizes, when there are no unemployed people, and everyone is really ready for this."
In Baghdad, near the parade grounds at the Rasheed Hotel, another chapter of history was unfolding.
Representatives of international oil companies gathered in a ballroom to bid on developing Iraq's oil fields in the first auction since the country nationalized its oil industry three decades ago.
"This is the biggest oil event in history," said one oil expert watching the bidding for substantial parts of the world's second-largest proven oil reserves.
Despite the intense interest in deals potentially worth billions of dollars, most of the major oil companies declined the ones offered Tuesday after finding out that their profit per barrel would be substantially lower than they'd expected. A second round of bidding is expected.