Maliki marks end of US-Iraq combat operations
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki welcomed a 'new stage' in US-Iraq relations today, amid trepidation over the US pulling out before Iraq forms a new government.
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Rocket and mortar attacks increase in frequency, accuracy
In Baghdad, all leave for Iraqi soldiers and police was canceled and new checkpoints were set up across the city, adding another level of frustration to Iraqis struggling to get through 115-degree F. heat amid power cuts and water shortages – many of them fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Iraq combat mission over
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US forces prepared for a possible wave of rocket and mortar attacks aimed at the American embassy in the protected Green Zone and a former palace that is home to US military headquarters near the international airport. Iraqi and US troops have been sweeping through neighborhoods from where rocket attacks have been launched in the past.
A fleet of military helicopters rumbled over Baghdad neighborhoods carrying Mr. Biden to his appointments with Iraqi leaders. At least one rocket landed near the Green Zone, though there were no reports of injuries.
The rocket and mortar attacks, which can be launched from miles away and are generally attributed to Shiite militias, have increased in frequency and accuracy over the last several weeks.
A US military commander said Monday they were expecting more such attacks around a ceremony Wednesday marking a change of command from Gen. Ray Odierno, who has played a key role in the war, to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin III, who will oversee next year’s withdrawal.
“As we take a look at the change of command activities, the principle threat would be indirect fire attacks both in the international zone and the victory base complex in an attempt to either embarrass the Maliki government… or to continue to portray the Iraqi security forces as ineffectual,” said Brig. Gen. Rob Baker, the 1st Armored Division deputy commander in charge of Baghdad. He said the US believes fighters recently trained in Iran in improved mortar techniques were responsible for the spike in attacks.
A US soldier was killed by a rocket in the normally calm southern port city of Basra on Sunday in the first fatal attack on American forces since combat troops withdrew this month.
Maliki: Today Iraq is master of its fate
But despite the challenges to both remaining US troops and Iraqi leaders, Maliki broadcast confidence in his address Tuesday.
“Today Iraq is a master of its fate,” he said on TV. “The 31st of August will remain an immortal day that all Iraqis can be proud of.”
Some of the Iraqis responsible for that security however struck a more skeptical tone.
"We should be celebrating because the American's are an occupying force," says Harith Abu Muthanna, a federal policeman at a Baghdad checkpoint. "People celebrated the first stage of the withdrawal thinking they would not see American troops in the streets again... we don't know whether we're truly rid of them or not."
Sahar Issa contributed reporting.