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Daily Column
US Papers Thu: SOFA Now In Effect
New Rules for a New Year, Green Zone (Much of it) Reverts to Iraqi Control
By DANIEL W. SMITH 01/01/2009 02:00 AM ET
It is a big day in Iraq for both Iraqis and the many thousands of others who, for now, call it home. The status of forces agreement takes affect, and long-awaited changes are afoot. Also, Iraq opens more oil fields to bidding.

From Baghdad
In recent days, there have been several stories detailing the changes that were to be made on Thursday morning, as 2009 rolls around and the SOFA is made a reality. The more restrictive rules placed on US military operations and the counterbalance of Iraqi forces taking more responsibility have been discussed at length, and possible effects have been weighed. Specific issues, such as the US troops’ arrest and detention rights have been delved into a length, and the process as a whole (including how much power the Americans are really giving up) has been given its fair share of ink.

Today, it all starts, but there isn’t really any more information about it all than there has been in days past. Thus, it makes sense that both articles about the transition appearing on its eve are written around the biggest actual event taking place, (also the most visible and symbolic) US military and State Department personnel moving out of large parts of the Green Zone, and turning them over to the Iraqis. Neither outshines the other(except that the Times piece gives a more vibrant description if the Green Zone as it has been), and both provide the same basic picture.

Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post gives ample space to one notable building of which the keys are being handed over, the lavish former Republican Palace of Saddam Hussein. It was used by the US military after the invasion of 2003, and was later the site of the U.S. Embassy.
When the clock struck midnight on Wednesday, the U.S. returned the palace to the Iraqi government and relinquished formal control over the Green Zone, a heavily fortified six-square-mile enclave on the Tigris River where key U.S. and Iraqi bureaucracies are situated. The handover is a sign of the shrinking footprint and influence of the United States in a country where it has lost thousands of lives and spent billions of dollars. For many Iraqis, the handover represents a significant step forward in their gradual reassertion of dominion over their own affairs.
"This is the end of the world as we know it," says one US sergeant, and an Iraqi soldier says "The U.S. will be here just as observers. It's a matter of pride." Londoño points out that, though much is being altered, it may not be quite so cut and dry as all that.
U.S. officials said they will try to make their presence in the Green Zone less conspicuous in coming days. But they will remain in charge of issuing badges that grant varying levels of access into the area. They said they will not immediately dismantle a vast security apparatus that includes hundreds of Peruvian and Ugandan guards, body-scanning machines, bomb-sniffing dogs and surveillance cameras.
The New York Times’ Campbell Robertson and Stephen Farrell continue these thoughts, reporting on which parts of the Green Zone may be opened up to the rest of Baghdad and who can pass through the area.
Several committees have been set up, consisting of both Iraqi and American officials, to study and administer these matters, though it appears that little will be done immediately.

...So while Iraqi soldiers now stand at checkpoints, Americans are still watching from nearby, and intelligence about a possible terrorist attack has made the checkpoints more stringent than usual this week, an Iraqi military spokesman said.

Plans to shrink the zone or open major thoroughfares, which could go a long way toward reducing Baghdad’s strangling traffic, are promised but could be months away. Americans have been moving out of buildings since 2006, though it has not been decided in many cases who is taking their place.
The fact that American soldiers will not be manning checkpoints in the same capacity anymore induces a sigh of relief for some, but is a source of worry in others who fear it may not continue to be as stringent. One Iraqi official said, “The American forces only deal with badges,” he said. “They have no friends. The Iraqis have friends.”

Robertson and Farrell also write of the significance of the Republican Palace’s transfer, and give sort of a mini retrospective on the Green since 2003, and the cultures which have taken hold within it, both foreign and Iraqi.

Times coverage continues with Campbell Robertson, this time paired up with Abeer Mohammed, reporting that Iraq announced on Wednesday that it would begin a second round of bids to license international oil companies to develop 11 oil and gas fields or groups of fields. The long term goal, said Iraq’s oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani at a news conference, is to produce 6 million barrels a day, up from the current 2.4 million. “There are about 78 oil and gas fields in Iraq, but only 15 of them are under operation,” he said. br
The same 35 foreign companies that qualified to take part in the first round are involved in this one, said Ahmed al-Shammar, a deputy minister, but it is possible that more companies could be added. Mr. Shahristani said he hoped the contracts in the second round would be signed by the end of 2009. He also said the ministry was planning to announce more licensing auctions in the future.
The article also covers the postponement of shoe-throwing correspondent Muntadar al-Zaidi’s trial, due to an appeal filed by his lawyer, then finishes up with examples of continued violence in Iraq’s Diyala and Ninewa provinces.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Holiday Editions.

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