POSTED: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 - 9:52am
UPDATED: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 3:24pm
Today marks turning point in US involvement in Iraq...
Iraqis celebrated the milestone in Baghdad. There was singing and cheering and impromptu parties as workers planted Iraqi flags in full view.
By today's deadline and in a big ceremony, US troops literally handed over the keys to this Baghdad base. It's the last of scores of them now under Iraqi control.
Gen. Daniel Polger the Multi-National Commander said, "In days to come you will find most American soldiers out in the countryside, fighting alongside our Iraqi Army and police comrades."
President Obama agreed to the shift for US troops in a step toward combat withdrawal next year.
Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton said, "This is a significant milestone in the responsible withdrawal of our forces from Iraq."
The US bet is that Iraqi forces can handle urban security. They now man Baghdad's checkpoints.
But as Iraqis showcased their training, attacks have spiked leading up to today's turnover: Two hundred-fifty people were killed last week in bombings in mainly Shiite areas.
In response, the government banned motorcycles, which were used in three of them.
Experts say Iraqi troops have made strides.
Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution said, "The training wheels have been coming off for a while. The process is gradual and that's the good thing about it."
Some US troops will stay in cities advising Iraqi forces, ready to call in reinforcement if needed.
The difference now is, that decision will be up to Iraqis.