Every day at sunset, as darkness descends upon the country, U.S troops suddenly start to appear on the main streets of Baghdad, carrying weapons, food and other items. Their appearance in the centre of the capital
US soldiers prepare to leave a military base in al-Qurna, 70 kms north of the southern Iraqi port city Basra, as they hand over security in the area to the Iraqi army on August 1, 2009. US troops pulled out of towns and cities in Iraq on June 30 as part of a landmark deal between Baghdad and Washington that calls for all American forces to leave the country by the end of 2011. Iraq's 500,000 police and 250,000 soldiers are now in charge of security in cities, towns and villages, while most of the 128,000 US troops remaining in the country are based outside towns and cities. AFP PHOTO/ESSAM AL-SUDANI (Photo credit should read ESSAM AL-SUDANI/AFP/Getty Images)
This military presence is disturbing for both the people of Baghdad as well as the American soldiers themselves.
Abu Naji who owns a shop on Muhammad Qasem Road, connecting the north of Baghdad to the south of the city, expressed a widely held opinion that the proclaimed withdrawal was only a matter of formalities. Pointing at a column of U.S soldiers, Abu Naji said “that the U.S. presence is still evident," and that “every night dozens of U.S tanks cross this road.”
On the other hand, for the Americans it is frustrating to face restrictions when in the past they could roam freely.
“U.S soldiers are bored of these restrictions. We are obliged to move around but under strict restrictions,” said David Salem, an American soldier of Lebanese descent. “We can’t leave our vehicles and our columns can only move at night. In the old days we could move as we wanted.”
Salem complains that he can no longer tour the markets as he used to do and that he feels like a bat “showing at night and hiding during the day."
According to the Iraqi-U.S security agreement U.S troops are banned from all Iraq cities and can only pass through cities at night in order to secure supplies, having gained the prior permission of the Iraqi army.
The Dawa party lawmaker Hassan al-Sunaid, a member of the security and defence committee, told Niqash that “U.S military moves are implemented according to the security agreement and in coordination with the Iraqi army.” He said that "Iraqi forces allow U.S forces to take specific roads connecting their bases and main supply centres during the night in order to enable them to transport supplies. However, they do not allow them to take side roads.”
Al-Sunaid added that "the practical application of the U.S withdrawal pact is progressing according to the agreed upon approach confirming that the withdrawal will continue until mid-2010 and only 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq.”
U.S. convoys still often move around the edge of Baghdad saying that the restrictions only apply to the city centre.
There are currently around 130,000 U.S troops in Iraq as well as about 100,000 private security contractors (mercenaries) whose presence is not covered by the withdrawal pact. However, unlike U.S troops, foreign security contractors are subject to Iraqi law and therefore remain, for the most part, out of the city centres to avoid potential confrontations and legal problems with Iraqi authorities.
Some U.S troops and private contractors have remained on Iraqi military bases that were formerly joint U.S-Iraqi bases in order to “provide advice to Iraqi security forces," according to government statements.
Nader Ramo, a U.S army spokesman, said that the number of advisers remaining in the joint bases is stipulated by the security agreement and that they do not, in any way, contradict the U.S troop withdrawal from cities. He added that "implementation has been taking place according to the principles agreed upon and U.S troops have abided by the agreement.”
Even so, many Iraqis still wonder just how significant the U.S troop withdrawal really was. With the presence of American troops still a daily reality, many, like Abu Naji, ask themselves: “Has there been a real withdrawal?"