U.S. troops have completed their withdrawal from major Iraqi cities, which is both awesome and terrifying. Iraqis are both celebrating and hiding in their basements, and the day has been marked by eerie calm and violence. Any questions?
Iraq declared a public holiday Tuesday to celebrate the official withdrawal of American troops from the country's cities and towns, emptying the streets as many people stayed home because they feared violence.
The Iraqi government declared today "National Sovereignty Day" and prepared celebrations and parades to mark the occasion. According to the Times of London, Iraqis partied last night but came to their senses this morning and stayed off the streets, which are now controlled by Iraqi military units.
Parties began last night under the watchful eye of Iraqi soldiers and police desperate to ensure that gatherings to mark the US-pullback did not spiral into violence. Thousands of Iraqis made their way through tight security to a party in Baghdad's largest park to celebrate with musicians and poets.
The atmosphere today, however, was more circumspect. Police cars were draped in flowers but the streets of Baghdad were unusually quiet. On a holiday, the parks along the banks of the Tigris are normally full but today they remained empty.
Those Iraqis who ventured out were in the mood to party, celebrating a moment that the Iraqi government has said represents its return to full sovereignty.
"Out, America, out!" a group of sweat-drenched young men chanted Monday at a Baghdad park as the sun was setting. They jumped up and down to the deafening beat of drums and the wail of horns.
Across town, the virtual absence of American troops and helicopters, the cheerfulness of Iraqis in military uniform, and the cries of joy gave this scarred, bunkered capital a rare carnival-like atmosphere.
There's good reason for the caution: A car bomb in Kirkuk killed 27 people today, and five U.S. soldiers have been killed since the weekend. They've been ordered to stay in their garrisons, which now are mostly located in rings encircling Iraqi cities as opposed to in them, for the next couple days.
As always in these situations, the general mood is best judged from the way the news impacts the reporters who cover it. The Times finds great significance in the fact that, for the first time, U.S. reporters are getting hassled by sovereign Iraqis at checkpoints:
Several American news organizations were also barred, including two television news networks and The New York Times, on the grounds that they did not have the appropriate badges.
This seemed in part intended to signal that the Iraqi authorities were in charge. In the past most checkpoints were run jointly by Iraqis and Americans and if someone lacked the correct badge, an exception could be made.
No exceptions anymore. Yankee go home.
No exceptions are being made for this woman, briefly mistaken by a Post reporter for a celebrating sovereign Iraqi, either:
At the Zawra Park celebration, Suhaile Muhsian Khlaf, 60, dressed in a black abaya, began to dance with abandon, the lone older woman in a sea of mostly young men dressed in Western clothes.
She hadn't come to the park to celebrate, she said, stepping aside for a moment.
"Orphan," she said, pointing to her young grandson, who was clutching her hand.
The family was recently evicted from a house where they were squatters. They hadn't eaten well in days, she said.
"I came here because they told me there would be government officials," she said. "This hunger is killing us."