Control of security in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone passed to Iraq after a UN mandate for troops expired. (photo, from bbc.co.uk)
Now that the UN mandate, put into place soon after the invasion in March 2003, is over Iraq will take greater control of its own security.
At the handover ceremony, the move has been welcomed by Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister, as Iraq’s “day of sovereignty”.
Though US and British forces will remain in Iraq, with Iraqi permission, they will be under two separate bilateral deals.
“I’d like to congratulate you and the Iraqi people on this day for which we have waited for more than 17 years”, said Mr Maliki at the handover ceremony at the Presidential Palace, the former home of ousted leader Saddam Hussein.
“We have the right to consider this day as the day of sovereignty and it is the beginning that Iraq will regain every particle of its soil as well as all of its will and sovereignty.”
The fortified zone is a powerful symbol of the US-led occupation in Iraq. That area houses the Iraqi government, coalition headquarters and most embassies and is inside the zone which is passing under the responsibility of Iraqi forces.
After the security handover, foreign forces in the zone will also face new rules.
Now, Iraqis will also have the right to prosecute US soldiers for any crimes committed while off-base and off-duty.
But as the details of Britain’s bilateral agreement with Iraq have not yet been made public, it remains unclear whether the same rule will apply to British troops.
British and Iraqi forces held a handover ceremony at Basra Airport.
“This is a great and important day on which the Basra airport control tower and the entire airport was turned over by the British to us”, Basra provincial governor Mohammed Masbah al-Waeli was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.
Two Iraqi prisoners being held by British forces at Basra air base have been handed back to the Iraqi authorities, because Britain no longer had the right to detain them after the UN mandate expired at midnight on Wednesday.
The two men were suspected of involvement in the murder of two British soldiers in March 2003, shortly after the invasion.