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Inheriting Iraq

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Iraqi forces officially took control of Saddam Hussein's sprawling presidential palace and the Green Zone, a heavily fortified area in the heart of Baghdad that contains the primary government buildings and numerous foreign embassies, on Jan. 1, 2009. The new U.S. Embassy -- one of the biggest and most expensive embassies in the world -- was opened a few days later. Above, Iraqi soldiers at the entrance to the refurbished barracks of the 2nd Division of the Iraqi Army on June 5, 2010, in Mosul, Iraq.

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January 2009 marked the lowest Iraqi death toll since coalition forces invaded in March 2003, with 191 Iraqis killed, according to Iraqi authorities. Provincial elections -- the first nationwide vote in four years -- were held on Jan. 31, 2009. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party made major gains, despite political assassinations and complaints of voter fraud. Here, U.S. soldiers attend the transfer-of-authority ceremony between the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division and the U.S. 1st Armored Division in Baghdad on Jan. 13, 2010.

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Sectarian violence rebounded in February 2009. On Feb. 1, 2009, a female suicide bomber killed 41 people in a tent filled with Shiite female and child pilgrims on the last day of a Shiite religious holiday. Twenty-seven Iraqis were killed in attacks across the country on Feb. 11, 2009. U.S. forces were not spared from the surge in violence: On Feb. 8, 2009, four U.S. soldiers and their interpreter were killed by a suicide bomber in northern Iraq -- the deadliest attack on U.S. troops in over nine months. Above, U.S. soldiers inspect the scene of a double bombing close to a bus station in the Shiite Muslim district of Bayah in western Baghdad on Feb. 11, 2009.

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Little more than a month after his inauguration, U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Feb. 27, 2009, that all American "combat troops" would be withdrawn from Iraq by Aug. 30, 2010, and that all U.S. soldiers would exit the country by the end of 2011. Following August 2010, he said, a "transitional force" of 35,000 to 50,000 troops would remain to support the Iraqi security forces "as they take the absolute lead in securing their country." Above, an Iraqi boy stands next to a U.S. soldier on June 10, 2010, in Abu Gharmah, Diyala province, Iraq.

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On the sixth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad to coalition forces, tens of thousands of followers of Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr flooded the city's streets on April 9, 2009, demanding the U.S. forces leave Iraq immediately. Above, supporters of Iraq's Sadr movement hold a picture of al-Sadr as they march in the Karada district of central Baghdad on May 31, 2010. 

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Two separate suicide bomb attacks, one targeting displaced Shiite civilians lining up to receive aid and the other aimed at Iranians on pilgrimage, killed at least 79 people on April 23, 2009. The attacks marked Iraq's worst single day of violence that year and raised questions about the country's ability to hold the upcoming general elections peacefully. Above, on Feb. 12, 2010, an Iraqi man sorts through election campaign posters stacked on a Baghdad street as official campaigning begins the next day for Iraq's March 7 general election.

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Army Sgt. John Russell, a communications specialist in the 54th Engineering Battalion on his third tour in Iraq, opened fire at a stress clinic in Baghdad's Camp Liberty on May 11, 2009, killing five fellow troops. The incident raised questions regarding the mental toll that the war has taken on U.S. soldiers and the quality of mental health care available to them. Above, U.S. soldiers stand by as Iraqi soldiers are drilled in the use of a 120mm mortar launcher during a training operation near the town of Latifiyah, on May 11, 2009.

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British troops took part in a flag-lowering ceremony in Basra, marking the official end to their combat presence on April 30, 2009 -- a month ahead of schedule. Britain, which maintained the second-largest contingent of soldiers in the country, lost 179 troops during the conflict. Above, a dog handler waits as British soldiers are briefed on the night convoy route they will take from the main British base at Basra Airport to Kuwait on Feb. 11, 2009.

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Iraq marked the departure of U.S. troops from urban areas by declaring a national holiday on June 30, 2009. But while Iraqis cheered their departure, many also voiced concerns that Iraqi security forces would not be able to maintain the country's fragile piece: Nearly 170 Iraqis were killed in the 10 days leading up to the U.S. withdrawal. Above, fire buckets hang next to a bullet-riddled wall of the 2nd Division of the Iraqi Army barracks on June 5, 2010, in Mosul.

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On the same day that Iraq celebrated U.S. troops' departure from urban areas, a group of oil companies led by BP won a contract to develop Rumaila -- one of Iraq's largest oil fields. Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani claimed that increases in Iraq's oil production from the deal would provide the government with an extra $1.7 trillion over 20 years. Above, Iraqi soldiers attend a training session with U.S. troops using U.S.-made M1A battle tanks at the military base of Basmayah, 15 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, on Aug. 24, 2010.

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Five Christian churches were attacked on July 12, 2009, in one of the largest coordinated strikes on the minority religion in Iraq. At least four people were killed. On the same day, a roadside bomb exploded near the convoy of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill in the southern city of Nasiriyah. Above, a defaced cross on the door of a former Christian seminary school in the south Dora neighborhood of Baghdad.

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Iraq suffered its worst violence in over two years on Oct. 25, 2009, when twin car bomb explosions killed at least 155 people and injured another 700. The attacks targeted Iraq's Justice Ministry and the nearby Baghdad Provincial Council building. The Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qaeda-affiliated group, claimed credit for the attack. Above, Iraqi soldiers inspect the room where a man allegedly involved in making car bombs was wearing an explosive belt and blew himself up when security forces surrounded his house, in the area of Saba al-Bor, north of Baghdad, on June 2, 2010.

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The Iraqi government's warm relations with Iran were strained when Iranian soldiers took control of an oil field in a remote southeastern area of Iraq on Dec. 17, 2009. Iran denied entering Iraqi territory, but only left the oil field after a three-day standoff. The two sides eventually resolved the dispute, and the foreign ministers of the countries called the incident a "misunderstanding." Iraqi soldiers patrol through a village during a clearance operation on June 12, 2010, in Ali Juma, Diyala province, Iraq.

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On Jan. 1, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., dismissed the charges against five Blackwater guards for the killing of 14 Iraqi civilians in 2008. Iraqi officials said that all employees of Blackwater, a company long mired in controversy, would no longer be welcome in the country. Above, Iraqi troops inspect the scene of a car bomb explosion in Baghdad's Mansur district on June 7, 2010, in which one person was killed and several others were wounded.

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Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as Chemical Ali for ordering a gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988 that killed approximately 5,000, was executed on Jan. 25, 2010. Majid was the main suspect behind many of the worst atrocities in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Above, Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad.

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Elections were originally planned for January 2010, but were delayed until March 7, 2010, after the Iraqi parliament failed to agree on the basic terms of the vote. Even then, the Iraqi de-Baathification commission banned almost 500 candidates from standing for election, due to their alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's banned Baath Party. Above, Iraqi soldiers inspect the site of a suicide attack that targeted anti-al-Qaeda militiamen being paid their wages in Radwaniyah, a former insurgent hot spot 16 miles from Baghdad, on July 18, 2010.

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After months of postponements, former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc emerged with a slim plurality of seats on March 26, 2010. The election results were immediately challenged by the incumbent, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the de-Baathification commission continued its efforts to exclude Sunni candidates in Allawi's bloc. As of the end of August, no government has been formed. Above, an Iraqi man holds up a picture of Maliki as the premier speaks during a visit to the southwest city of Karbala on Feb. 15, 2010.

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Once fierce rivals, Allawi and Moqtada al-Sadr met in Damascus in mid-August 2010 for negotiations on resolving the election dispute. Little progress was made in the talks, which were brokered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Above, Allawi with Sadr.

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Iraq's top Army officer criticized the planned U.S. troop withdrawal as premature on Aug. 12, 2010. He warned that Iraqi security forces may not be prepared to take the reins for at least another decade. This followed a statement by Tariq Aziz, Iraq's former foreign minister under Saddam Hussein, who said the U.S. departure would leave Iraq "to the wolves." Above, an Iraqi soldier searches a village during a clearance operation on June 12, 2010, in Ali Juma, Diyala province, Iraq.

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The two largest political blocs, Allawi's Iraqiya alliance and Maliki's State of Law bloc, decided to suspend talks on forming a unity government on Aug. 16, 2010. Allawi said that he wanted Maliki to apologize for referring to Iraqiya as a representative of Iraq's Sunni voters. Iraqi boys sit outside a grocery store on June 11 in Ali Ayun, Diyala province, Iraq.

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Early in the morning on Aug. 19, the last brigade of U.S. combat troops in Iraq crossed the border into Kuwait, marking the end to more than seven years of combat operations in Iraq. Above, a U.S. soldier walks through a flash checkpoint set up in response to the killing of two U.S. soldiers in a car bomb attack on June 11, 2010, in Ali Ayun, Diyala province, Iraq.

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