Today was a lot like yesterday. A day of unanswered questions in a place somewhere between war and peace.
But there was one change today. It's not very visible yet but Iraq assumed responsibility for it's security. The United Nations Mandate that allowed U.S.-led forces to operate here expired and it was replaced by a bilateral security agreement between the two nations. The agreement spells out the end of the U.S. military presence here and the end of the Iraq war.
Basically the United States no longer has the legal run of the country authorized by the United Nations. Now an agreement that calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities by this summer and from all of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011 goes into affect.
The agreement changes a few things and here is a list of some of them:
- Iraqis take control of their air space
- Iraqis take control of the most evoked image of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the almost six year occupation
- The U.S. military must now get Iraqi issued arrest warrants and judicial orders
- The U.S. military can only go on joint missions with the Iraq
- The U.S. military must hand over all detainees to the Iraqi government
As with everything in Iraq the process will be slow, gradual and unpredictable. The Green Zone was handed over to the Iraqis in an official ceremony framed by tall concrete blast walls.It was largely ceremonial.
The transfer of detainees will be a slow process. Americans are still holding almost 16,000 detainees that they will hand over at a rate of 1,500 a month. The military is trying to build cases on 5,000 of the men. Many human rights groups worry that their transfer would subject them to abuse in Iraqi prisons.
U.S. soldiers still manned the checkpoints in and out of the 5.6 square miles of the Green Zone in central Baghdad that houses foreign embassies, top Iraqi leaders' homes, the U.S. embassy and military installations.
Most had one Iraqi soldier looking at badges as U.S. soldiers looked over their shoulders. Badges in the Green Zone are still issued by the U.S. military and the general logistics are handled by them. It will take at least another six months before everything is settled. About half the population of the Green Zone are U.S. led-coalition forces, including contractors.
On Thursday a tent was set up and officials were serenaded by a marching band playing bag-pipes on a red carpet. Just across the street there was a view of the green portable toilets soldiers use. The Baghdad Brigade, which reports to Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's office, will become the Green Zone police. Some worry that it will become Maliki's personal force.
The U.S. military ushered reporters to one checkpoint where a group of Iraqi soldiers from the Baghdad Brigade stood. This was the picture they wanted the world to see _ Iraqis protecting the Green Zone. At the entrance of the checkpoint U.S. soldiers stood guard deciding who could and could not enter the Green Zone.
The picture we didn't see was the U.S. flag that fluttered over the Republican Palace, the largest of Saddam's palaces, being lowered and taken away. That happened in an uncovered ceremony on Wednesday.
It has been the home to the U.S. embassy and U.S. operations for years. The Green Zone was built around the ornate building. The ceiling and walls are engraved with Saddam Hussein's initials. And most recently it was the home of the Green Bean Cafe where U.S. officials picked up lattes near a hall turned into a deli-like cafeteria.
Now it is empty save
the furniture that Saddam Hussein had in the palace. This morning
Maliki called the return of the palace on New Year's day a "dream that
“This palace is a symbol of Iraqi sovereignty and by its return it is a message to the Iraqi people that Iraqi sovereignty has returned," he said in a ceremony at the palace. “This day is an immortal day and it is our right to regard it as a National holiday.”
Both Maliki and President Jalal Talabani are trying to take the building as their residence.
So now we enter a new time in Iraq. A time between war and peace, a time between occupation and sovereignty. It is a nation in limbo and time will tell if a democracy that respects human rights here thrives or the nation reverts back to a dictatorship. Right now it is neither and many fear that is what Maliki is becoming.
Time will tell if the Iraqi Security Forces can secure the nation, time will tell if the U.S. military adheres to the rules of the agreement and the dates of withdrawal. The future, as always, is uncertain.
Happy New Year, may it bring peace and change.