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Four US soldiers killed as troops withdraw from Iraq’s cities

Daniel MacArthur-Seal
30 June 2009

Four combat troops were killed in Baghdad overnight just as American forces were handing over security for Iraq's major cities to Iraqi forces. American troops in the capital were redeployed to two bases near Baghdad airport. In honour of the handover, a milestone in the US planned full withdrawal by 2011, Iraq declared 30 June National Sovereignty Day and held fireworks and rallies to mark the occasion.

The toD verdict: Iraqis' celebration of their national sovereignty as American troops leave major urban areas after six years of occupation is understandable yet with greater responsibility for internal security, the fledgling government will face a host of challenges. In a sign of continued instability, the parades and celebrations were held within Baghdad's Green Zone, which, while under Iraqi control since January, continues to highlight the instability of central government.

Although the Iraqi government has spun the withdrawal as a "victory", doubts remain that Iraqi forces can secure the country's major cities that have been host to several violent attacks in recent days, including a car bomb in Mosul which killed ten yesterday and two blasts in Baghdad last week in which over 150 people died. Despite the fall in aggregate levels of violence, the ability of insurgents to continue to launch large scale attacks must fill Iraqi military leaders with foreboding. Keep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle. Sign up to receive toD's daily security briefings via email by clicking here

President Nuri al-Maliki warned his enemies of the "fatal mistake" of underestimating Iraq's ability to defend itself, but the challenges posed by external powers are no less substantial than those of a home grown insurgency. General Ray Odierno, the US's top commander in Iraq, warned that neighbouring Iran was still "supporting, funding and training surrogates inside Iraq" and blamed attacks on individuals "supported by Iran". Iraq's National Sovereignty Day should not be taken to mark independence from outside forces, and Iraqi stability will continue to depend on Iranian good will and American diplomatic support.

Taliban-Pakistan ceasefire collapses in Afghan borderland

Taliban in North Waziristan have abrogated a standing ceasefire with the Pakistani government, launching a raid that killed sixteen soldiers. The terms of the agreement, reached in February 2008, are not disclosed but Taliban spokesmen blamed "Pakistan's failure to stop the drone attacks in North and South Waziristan".

Pakistan has been preparing for an offensive against the Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud's forces in South Waziristan but the collapse of the treaty with Hafiz Gul Bahadur in the north raises the danger of an escalating conflict.

North Korea enriching uranium

The South Korean government has warned that their Northern neighbour was "moving forward" with the enrichment of uranium, giving the country a potential second source material to complement their established plutonium based nuclear arsenal. North Korea's plutonium development at the Yongbyon plant has been closely monitored by foreign intelligence services but uranium offers the potential of secret underground enrichment.

The question of Kim Jong Il's successor as the nation's leader, considered to have fuelled the North's recent bellicose warnings, nuclear tests and missile launches, may have come a step closer to conclusion with South Korean intelligence reporting that Kim's youngest son, Kim Jong Un, had been officially nominated as heir. South Korea's defence minister however advised caution, suggesting that no final decision has yet been reached.

Sri Lankan army will establish Tamil unit

Sri Lanka's reconciliation minister, Vinyagamoorthi Muralitharan, has announced plans to from an ethnic Tamil military unit in the country's armed forces. Muralitharan defected from the LTTE in 2004, constituting the Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal party (TMVP), a paramilitary organization and political party which will form the basis of the new unit. Although now an established democractic party with representation in the ruling coalition, the TMVP have been subject to criticism for recruiting child soldiers and abusing civilians. Sri Lanka, despite declaring vicrtory in the country's civil war against the LTTE, has outlined plans to significantly expand its standing army.

Ousted Honduran president vows to return

Michael Zelaya, the president of Honduras displaced by a military coup on Sunday, promised to return to the country on Thursday to restore democratic process and resume his interrupted tenure as president. Zelaya called on the nations armed forces to return to their barracks and to "stop repressing the people". Leaders from across the Americas called for the restoration of Zelaya's government, with Venezualan president Hugo Chevaz halting oil exports to the nation in the interim and withdrawing diplomats in a joint move with other members of the ALBA alliance of left leaning governments in the Americas. 

Russian war games raise fears in Georgia

Russia launched a series of provocative military exercises in the Russian Caucasus, close to the Georgian border. A Russian military spokesmen did little to soften the potential impact of the exercises, describing preparations for "battle readiness" in the region which have been attacked by Georgian officials as "further increasing tensions".

In a further sign of Russia's increasing dominance in the Caucasus, UN observers were forced to withdraw today from Georgia's borders after the failure of negotiations to prolong their mission in the country due to Russian objections.

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