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Iranians Held In Iraq Since 2007 Released

1618 words - 7 pages

CNN) -- Five Iranians held in Iraq by the United States since 2007 went back to Tehran on Sunday, Iran's government-backed Press TV reported.

They were greeted at the airport by dozens of cheering men, who placed wreaths around their necks and carried them on their shoulders from the plane to the airport building, Press TV pictures showed. Some in the crowd flashed victory signs, while others took pictures of the returning men.

Three of the men, who were released by the United States on Thursday, said they were diplomats. They were detained in Irbil, a city in Iraq's Kurdish region, on January 11, 2007.

It is not clear who the other two men are.

The U.S. military said they had ...view middle of the document...

However, he said that the release was not linked to any rumored negotiations about the British hostages or to any other deal

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Fireworks over Baghdad as U.S. troops leave

But some worry violence will spike in urban areas after withdrawal

BAGHDAD - Iraqi forces assumed formal control of Baghdad and other cities Tuesday after American troops handed over security in urban areas in a defining step toward ending the U.S. combat role in the country. A countdown clock broadcast on Iraqi TV ticked to zero as the midnight deadline passed for U.S. combat troops to finish their pullback to bases outside cities.

"The withdrawal of American troops is completed now from all cities after everything they sacrificed for the sake of security," said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "We are now celebrating the restoration of sovereignty."

The Pentagon did not offer any comment to mark the passing of the deadline.

Fireworks, not bombings, colored the Baghdad skyline late Monday, and thousands attended a party in a park where singers performed patriotic songs. Loudspeakers at police stations and military checkpoints played recordings of similar tunes throughout the day, as Iraqi military vehicles decorated with flowers and national flags patrolled the capital.

"All of us are happy — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds on this day," Waleed al-Bahadili said as he celebrated at the park. "The Americans harmed and insulted us too much."

Al-Maliki declared a public holiday and proclaimed June 30 as "National Sovereignty Day."

Midnight's handover to Iraqi forces filled many citizens with pride but also trepidation that government forces are not ready and that violence will rise. Shiites fear more bombings by Sunni militants; Sunnis fear that the Shiite-dominated Iraqi security forces will give them little protection.

Security tight at celebration

If the Iraqis can hold down violence in the coming months, it will show the country is finally on the road to stability. If they fail, it will pose a challenge to President Barack Obama's pledge to end an unpopular war that has claimed the lives of more than 4,300 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

The gathering at the Baghdad park was unprecedented in size for such a postwar event in a city where people tend to avoid large gatherings for fear of suicide bombers. They ignored an appeal by Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi to stay away from crowded places during the U.S. pullback, which has seen more than 250 people killed in bombings over the past 10 days.

Security at the party was stifling, as it was throughout much of Baghdad where increased checkpoints dotted the streets and identity checks were methodical. Police using bomb sniffers searched every man, woman and child who attended the party.

In a ceremony rich with symbolism, the top U.S. military commander in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Daniel Bolger, gave his Iraqi counterpart...

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