U.S. hands over Green zone to Iraqis

US hands over Green Zone security to Iraq

Jan. 1st, 2009

BAGHDAD (AFP) — The United States handed over security control of the Green Zone, a potent symbol of the American occupation, to Iraq on Thursday as a UN mandate for foreign troops ran out and bilateral military accords took effect.

In another step towards full sovereignty, Iraq was also handed control of Basra airport by British forces, who have been using the facility as their main base in southern Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

The formal transfer of control of the heavily fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad, during an emotional ceremony at the former palace of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, was hailed by Iraqi government and military officials.

“A year before it was just a dream to think about foreign troops withdrawing from Iraq but today that dream has become a reality,” the Prime Minister said in an impassioned speech in one of halls of the sprawling palace.

“It is our right to consider this day the day of sovereignty and the beginning of the process of retrieving every inch of our nation’s soil,” Maliki said as the Iraqi flag was hoisted at the sandstone palace entrance.

“The palace is the sign of Iraqi sovereignty and it is a message to all Iraqis that our sovereignty has returned.”

Maliki also declared the day a national holiday.

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