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No break from the violence as US withdraws from Iraqi cities

Four United States soldiers were killed in combat shortly before the American military completed a withdrawal from Iraq's cities on Monday. The prime minister assured Iraqis yesterday that government forces taking control of urban areas were more than capable of protecting the country.

Nouri al-Maliki said in a nationally televised address that "those who think that Iraqis are not able to protect their country and that the withdrawal of foreign forces will create a security vacuum are committing a big mistake."

However, Iraqi police reported that a car bomb exploded in the northern city of Kirkuk later yesterday, killing at least 24 people and wounding dozens.

Police Brigadier General Sarhat Qadir says the explosives-laden car was parked near a crowded market in the ethnically tense city. He says at least 40 people were wounded in the attack.

The withdrawal of US troops that was completed on Monday was part of a US-Iraqi security pact and marks the first major step toward withdrawing all American forces from the country by December 31, 2011. US President Barack Obama has said all combat troops will be gone by the end of August 2010.

In the attack on Monday against US forces, the military said the four soldiers who were killed served with the Multi-National Division-Baghdad but did not provide further details pending notification of their families. It said they died as a "result of combat-related injuries."

It was the deadliest attack against US forces since May 21, when three soldiers were killed and nine others wounded in a roadside bombing in southern Baghdad.

There was a significant spike in violence before Monday's withdrawal. More than 250 people were killed in a series of bombings, including a bomb on June 20 that left 81 dead outside a mosque in northern Iraq and another in a Baghdad market on June 24 that killed 78. Al-Maliki blamed the attacks on al-Qaida in Iraq and the remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

"I congratulate the Iraqi people on this day, June 30, when the US forces have withdrawn from Iraq cities in accordance to the forces withdrawal agreement," al-Maliki said. "We consider this day as a national holiday and it is a joint achievement by all Iraqis." The Iraqi government has named June 30 National Sovereignty Day and declared a public holiday.

President Jalal Talabani said the day could not have happened without the help of the US, which invaded Iraq in 2003 and ousted Saddam - who was later executed.


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