Iraq affirms ‘independence’

Iraq affirms ‘independence’

Iraq affirms ‘independence’

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki delivers a speech during a ceremony in Baghdad. Neither Iraqiya leader Allawi, Sunni Parliamentary Speaker al-Nujaifi, nor any other Sunni lawmaker attended the ceremony. REUTERS photo

Iraq’s prime minister has hailed the end of the U.S. military presence in Iraq as a new dawn for his country and urged Iraqis to preserve the unity of a nation still under attack by insurgents and beset by sectarian divisions.

On a televised celebration in Baghdad on Dec. 31, Nouri al-Maliki declared Dec. 31 a national holiday marking “a new dawn” in which Iraq would focus on rebuilding a nation shattered by nearly nine years of war.

“Your country has become free,” he said. “The faithful sons of Iraq have to preserve its sovereignty, unity and independence.”

The prime minister sought to credit Iraqis with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and made no mention of the role played by U.S. forces that invaded in March 2003.

He said the U.S. withdrawal that was completed Dec. 18 was proof of the government’s ability to protect the country’s sovereignty.

“This success is for all Iraqis and not to a party, an ethnic group or a sect, but all Iraqis are partners in this splendid success,” he said while noting the huge losses suffered in a war that killed at least 100,000 Iraqis.

Al-Maliki acknowledged the security threats Iraq still faces and said he was determined to speed up the arming and training of Iraqi security forces. The battle against terrorism and “the dark forces” is not over, the prime minister said, but added, “We are confident of victory.”

The prime minister also called on Iraqi political leaders to work together but he made no mention of the political crisis gripping the country. Al-Maliki also failed to mention Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who is wanted on alleged terrorism charges and is currently sheltering in semi-autonomous northern Iraq.

Turkish PM’s remarks

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey was closely following the incidents in Iraq, adding that the sectarian division of the country would be dangerous.

Erdoğan called on Iraqis to act moderately. “We do not desire fraternal fighting in Iraq, and we are making the necessary suggestions,” Erdoğan told a televised address to the nation.

Sectarian tensions have surged in recent weeks after al-Maliki’s government issued an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi. Al-Maliki is also trying to get rid of his deputy prime minister, Saleh al-Mutlak, a Sunni, leaving many Sunnis worried that they are being sidelined from power.

Al-Mutlak and al-Hashemi’s Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc has boycotted parliamentary and Cabinet meetings. Al-Hashemi has rejected the accusations against him while al-Mutlak has decried the Shiite-led government as a dictatorship.

Hundreds of people attended the Dec. 31 ceremony, but there was no sign of Iraqiya head Iyad Allawi, Sunni Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, or other Sunni lawmakers and rivals.