US Troops Withdraw from Iraqi Cities

BAGHDAD (AP) — Hours before the deadline for U.S. combat troops to withdraw from Iraqi cities, the top American military commander in the Middle East expressed confidence Monday that Iraqi security forces are ready despite a string of deadly bombings in recent days.

The blasts, which have killed more than 250 people in a little over a week, have raised concerns that violence will spike in Iraq's urban areas after the last U.S. troops leave. But the Iraqi government has said its forces are prepared and has declared Tuesday "National Sovereignty Day," a public holiday that will be marked by festivities.

The celebrations began Monday in Baghdad as patriotic songs rang out from speakers mounted at police stations and military checkpoints. Iraqi military vehicles decorated with flowers and Iraqi flags patrolled the city.

U.S. combat troops must withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30 according to a security agreement that also requires all American forces to leave the country by the end of 2011. Some Americans will remain in the cities as trainers and advisers, but the bulk of the more than 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq have assembled in large bases outside urban centers.

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told The Associated Press that when the sun rises on Tuesday "Iraqi citizens will see no U.S. soldiers in their cities. They will see only Iraqi troops protecting them."