NAJAF, IRAQ -- U.S. troops withdrew from this Shiite holy city in southern Iraq on Tuesday, an initial step in the military's effort to pull back from the country's urban centers and turn over authority to Iraqi forces.
Under waving Iraqi flags, U.S. commanders formally turned over control of Forward Operating Base Hotel, a square, concrete-walled American base on the edge of Najaf, a shrine city about 100 miles south of Baghdad that saw intense fighting last year.
"The Iraqi Army is operating successfully throughout the region," said Lt. Col. James Oliver, the outgoing base commander, as he handed over the ceremonial keys to the base. "They are fully independent and capable of responding to all security needs. We are now here in a strictly advisory mode."
The handover of Najaf scarcely could have been imagined last summer, when thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi troops fought a pitched, three-week battle in the city to suppress the militia forces of radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Progress has been slower than any of us would like, but progress is nevertheless being made. Look for more stories like this over the next few months.