Iraq's 'Milestone' Day Marred by Fatal Blast

While more than 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, patrols by heavily armed soldiers in hulking vehicles have largely disappeared from Iraq's urban centers, as the United States turns over security to Iraqi police and soldiers.
By Ernesto Londoño and Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 1, 2009

BAGHDAD, June 30 -- At least 34 people were killed in a car bombing Tuesday in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, marring a national holiday declared to celebrate the departure of U.S. combat troops from the country's cities.

Also Tuesday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of four soldiers Monday in an attack south of Baghdad, a grim reminder of the vulnerability of U.S. troops as more of them are deployed to rural outposts.

The car bomb in Kirkuk detonated shortly after 6 p.m. at Shorja Market, wounding scores of shoppers and damaging several shops, Iraqi police officials said. Farhad Aziz al-Barzanji, a physician at Kirkuk's Azadi Hospital, said 91 people were injured.

Mustafa Mahmoud Kirkukly, a construction worker, ran to the market after the blast to look for his brother, who owned a cellphone shop there.

"I saw his dead body," Kirkukly said. "They want to fuel sectarian strife again. Their goal is a civil war."

Against the backdrop of continuing violence, Baghdad residents marked the U.S. pullback with a military parade, and a few took to the streets to honk their car horns and wave flags. However, many people stayed home on a day made gloomy by a light sandstorm, and the city was mostly quiet.

Meanwhile, Iraqi and U.S. leaders billed Tuesday as a milestone and expressed confidence in the abilities of Iraqi security forces as they formally assumed control of cities.

"This day, which we consider a national celebration, is an achievement made by all Iraqis," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in Baghdad. "Those who think that Iraqis are unable to defend their country are committing a fatal mistake."

In Washington, President Obama called the long-planned move an "important step" toward a complete U.S. pullout from the war that began six years ago, but he also predicted more violence.

"There are those who will test Iraqi security," he said. "I'm confident that those forces will fail. The future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy."

Obama said the partial pullout was part of a strategy for ending the war responsibly. "The Iraqi people are rightly treating this day as a cause for celebration," he said.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, called the date a "significant milestone" and said U.S. forces would no longer conduct unilateral operations anywhere in the country.

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