U.S. Vacates Baghdad Palace Ahead Of HandoverDecember 31, 2008
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- U.S. officials have withdrawn from the Saddam Hussein-era palace they occupied in Baghdad since 2003, a sign of the change of power when their troops were to come under Iraqi authority at midnight.
The U.S. force in Iraq, now more than 140,000 strong, has operated since 2003 under a UN Security Council resolution expiring at midnight on New Year's Eve. From January 1, U.S. troops operate with authority granted by the Iraqi government under a pact agreed by Washington and Baghdad.
The pact -- viewed by both countries as a milestone in restoring Iraqi sovereignty -- requires U.S. troops to leave in three years, revokes their power to hold Iraqis without charge, and subjects contractors and off-duty troops to Iraqi law.
Iraq also reached a deal with Washington's main ally Britain on December 30 giving its 4,100 troops until the end of July to depart. Small contingents from Australia, El Salvador, Romania, Estonia, and the NATO alliance will also leave in 2009.
U.S. and Iraqi officials were planning a ceremony for the morning of January 1 to formally hand over control of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified central sector of the capital that houses Western diplomats and Iraqi government offices.
In recent weeks U.S. diplomats have gradually moved into a newly built compound, the world's largest U.S. embassy, leaving behind a sprawling yellow marble palace of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, which looms over the Tigris River.
"The palace will be in the possession of the Iraqi government from January 1, 2009," U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Susan Ziadeh said of the ornate building, where Americans worked beneath garish frescoes depicting Hussein's arsenal of missiles....(read the rest at Radio Free Europe here.)
The future of Iraq now really does belong to children like those in the top picture. And THAT is great news!!!
Thank you to all our troops - and their families - who made this possible.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
H/T Donna :)
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