Pullout of U.S. Troops From Iraqi Cities Viewed With Apprehension, Pride

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 29, 2009

BAGHDAD, June 28 -- Salah al-Jbory is in no mood to celebrate.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called on his countrymen to revel Monday to mark the ostensible departure of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities by the end of the month -- a turning point he calls a "major victory."

But across Iraq, the first major deadline in the American military's phased withdrawal from the country is being viewed with a mix of apprehension, pride and incredulity.

"I will celebrate when I see my country living in peace," said Jbory, a tribal leader in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, where no U.S. outposts remain. "I will celebrate when there is electricity and clean water, when people go to the park and feel safe. I'll celebrate when kids on the street look clean and are wearing new clothes. I will celebrate when people can earn a living."

American troops have been thinning out across Baghdad and other restive cities in recent months. Since Jan. 1, the U.S. military has shut down more than 150 bases and outposts.

In deference to the security agreement that set the pullout deadlines, American troops in and near urban areas have begun avoiding nonessential outings during the daytime and will be on virtual lockdown during the first days of July.

But they expect to continue conducting patrols in urban areas alongside Iraqi security forces in the months ahead.

"On 1 July, we're not going to see this big puff of smoke, everyone leaving the cities," Brig. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, a spokesman for the U.S. military, said recently.

Nonetheless, some Iraqis see the date as an independence day of sorts.

"The 30th of June will be like a wedding," said Maj. Gen. Abdel Amir al-Zaidi, commander of the Iraqi army's 11th Division, currently in the northern city of Kirkuk. "It is a victory for all Iraqis, a national holiday."

That sentiment is far from unanimous. Violence has spiked in recent days as insurgents have sought to make calls for jubilation seem like hubris. A string of bombings last week, including powerful ones in Kirkuk and the eastern Baghdad district of Sadr City, killed more than 200 people.

"We are not happy now," said Abu Noor, a college student, standing outside a market in Ur, a neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad. "Why should we be happy? We know that things will turn upside down after maybe a week of the withdrawal. We all know that the militias are hiding because they know the Americans are inside the cities and are ready to be there at a moment's notice."

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