US combat troops must pull out of Iraq’s urban centres by midnight on Tuesday under a bilateral security pact that also requires all troops to leave the country by 2012. All had left the capital by Monday afternoon, said Major-General in Staff, Abboud Qanbar, head of Iraqi security forces in Baghdad.
Another Iraqi official who would not be named said some units in cities outside Baghdad would leave at the last minute.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said 30 bases remained to be handed over. There are still some 130,000 US troops in Iraq.
Addressing military leaders in Baghdad, US-installed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said: “Our sovereignty has started and ... we should move forward to build a modern state and enjoy security which has been achieved.”
Many Iraqis were elated even though they feared militants might use the withdrawal as an opportunity to step up attacks.
“The American forces’ withdrawal is something awaited by every Iraqi: male, female, young and old. I consider June 30 to be like a wedding,” said Ahmed Hameed, 38, near an ice cream bar in Baghdad’s upmarket Karrada district.
“This is proof Iraqis are capable of controlling security inside Iraq,” added the recent returnee from exile in Egypt.
The government has declared June 30 a national holiday, “National Sovereignty Day”.
A spate of bombings in recent days, including two of the deadliest for more than a year that killed 150 people between them, have raised fears militants will try to step up the pace of attacks. Yet few Iraqis see that as reason for the Americans to stay.
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