US opens new embassy in Iraq

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The Independent Online

A new fortress-like US embassy has been inaugurated by the American ambassador, Ryan Crocker. Mr Crocker said the $700m (£480m) embassy was testimony to America's commitment to a long-term friendship with Iraq, where about 146,000 US troops are deployed.

In recent weeks US diplomats have gradually moved into the newly built compound, the world's largest US embassy, leaving behind a sprawling palace they had inhabited since toppling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003.

US officials had ruled Iraq directly from the palace for a year after taking Baghdad, and their continued presence there was seen by many Iraqis as a symbol of occupation.

The opening of the new embassy is in line with a change of power that was effected on New Year's Day, when US forces in Iraq officially came under an Iraqi mandate.

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani attended the opening ceremony.

In a courtyard between two buildings in the new compound, the Iraqi national anthem was played, then US Marines raised an American flag to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner.

Meanwhile, four bombs killed four and injured 19 in Baghdad yesterday, a day after 38 died in a suicide bombing at a Shia shrine four miles north of the new embassy.