01/02/2009, 00.00
IRAQ
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Baghdad's Green Zone under control of Iraqi soldiers

The citadel in the heart of the capital, where the Iraqi parliament and government are located, is now under the control of the Baghdad Brigade, after being managed by U.S. forces since 2003. The Basra airport has also changed hands: after the English, it is now the responsibility of the Iraqi soldiers.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - U.S. soldiers have handed over to their Iraqi counterparts the control of the Green Zone in the capital. The passing of responsibility represents an important step along the path of the agreement between Washington and Baghdad for the definitive withdrawal of U.S. forces, scheduled to be completed in 2011.

The Green Zone, also known as the international area of the city, is a sort of fortified citadel in which the offices of the Iraqi government and parliament are located, in addition to many embassies of Western countries, including those of the United States and Great Britain.

"This is a glorious and blessed day in Iraq's modern history. We're developing Iraq and its future," commander Imad Jassim, head of the Baghdad Brigade that now is in charge of security in the zone, said at the transition ceremony.

While the Green Zone has passed from the hands of United States soldiers to those of the Iraqi military, at the Basra airport the mandate of the English soldiers has ended, and they have handed over responsibility for security to the country's authorities, as part of the agreement stipulated between London and Baghdad.

In the atmosphere of general satisfaction over the beginning of this new phase in security management, prime minister Al Maliki, addressing the nation on television, called January 1 a "day of sovereignty" that should become a national holiday. "A year before this date, it was a dream to just think about withdrawing the foreign forces from Iraq," the prime minister said. "The dream that nobody was allowed to think about has become a reality. We consider this a reason for all Iraqis to rejoice." The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq must be completed by 2011. Beginning on December 31, 2008, according to the agreement between Baghdad and Washington approved by the Iraqi parliament in mid-November, the U.S. military will have to leave the streets of cities and villages by the middle of 2009, and will not be able to act without the mandate of a judge or the agreement of the government.

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