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New US embassy opens in Baghdad

US Ambassador Ryan Crocker: 'The security transition is proceeding very well'

The new US embassy in Baghdad has been opened, with a dedication ceremony attended by the Iraqi president.

The compound is one of the biggest and most expensive embassies the US has ever built, and was opened amid heavy security in the Iraqi capital.

On 1 January the US officially handed over responsibility for security in the fortified Green Zone to Iraqi forces.

The US also gave back Saddam Hussein's palace there, which had been their headquarters in the city.

The new complex where about 1,200 staff will live and work has been built with security very much in mind, says the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Baghdad.

The opening ceremony was led by Ambassador Ryan Crocker and attended by US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Mr Talabani thanked the US for helping to create a democratic Iraq "which will serve as a model for other peoples of the eastern world", Reuters news agency reported.

US spokeswoman Susan Ziadeh said the new embassy reflected a broadening of relations between the US and Iraq as the security situation improved.

"Its scale reflects the importance of the US-Iraq bilateral relationship," she said. "It reflects a more normal situation."

'Absolute priority'

The new year has opened with bloodshed in Iraq.

Several bombs exploded in Baghdad on Monday, killing at least three people and wounding many others.

The worst of 2009 so far, a suicide bombing on pilgrims gathering at one of the main Shia shrines in Baghdad killed up to 40 people last week.

I am confident we will continue to manage this in a careful, organised fashion that has the Iraqis firmly in charge but in charge of a very firm security situation
Ryan Crocker
US Ambassador to Iraq

On Sunday, Ambassador Crocker strongly condemned the suicide bombing near the Imam Moussa al-Kadhim shrine, as well as a suicide attack on 2 January - the second against a meeting of Sunni and Shia tribal leaders just south of the city.

Mr Crocker said the recent attacks showed that despite great progress on security, al-Qaeda in Iraq remained a lethal and dangerous threat.

However, he said he was confident about Iraqi forces' abilities, as they take over wider responsibility for security in the country.

"They are as determined as we are that this necessary transition does not open up any vulnerabilities and that is an absolute priority for both of us," said Mr Crocker.

"So I am confident we will continue to manage this in a careful, organised fashion that has the Iraqis firmly in charge but in charge of a very firm security situation."

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