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Iraq in 2009 was marked by a dramatic scale back of the U.S. role and declining violence, punctuated by occasional spectacular attacks aimed at undermining confidence in the country’s fragile government.

The year started on a hopeful note with nearly violence-free provincial elections at the end of January, though the disputed province of Kirkuk was left out as politicians continued to wrangle over issues related to whether the oil-rich province should be under the control of the central government or the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

After June 30, the U.S. military was required to pull back from Iraqi cities under the countries’ security agreement, and at first, the determination with which the Iraqi government enforced the requirement caught the Americans off guard.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared the day a national holiday and at times it seemed he was declaring victory over the American forces the Iraqis still heavily relied upon for security. In Baghdad, U.S. combat forces virtually vanished from the streets, spending most of the day on large U.S. compounds such as the Victory Base Complex, moving outside the wire only in the dead of night.

U.S. combat forces still conduct regular patrols in rural areas, especially in Diyala province, once the heart of the insurgency, and are still battling for control of Mosul, insurgents’ last urban stronghold.

But overall the U.S. military has shifted into the background, with the first so-called Advise and Assist Brigades arriving to start the transition from combat operations to a mostly training mission. The original "coalition of the willing" is now a coalition of one as the last non-U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq in July.

U.S. and Iraqi forces are still occasionally targeted by roadside bombs, but fighting has significantly waned. Most U.S. troops are confined to bases, many relegated to taking inventory of equipment in preparation for combat troops pulling out in 2010.

There have been several high-profile attacks in Baghdad recently aimed at undermining the Iraqi government, but U.S. military officials continue to say Iraqis must maintain the lead role in security. On Aug. 19, suicide bombers targeted Finance and Foreign ministries, killing more than 100 people. On Oct. 25, a twin bombing at two government buildings killed more than 150 people, and on Dec. 8, 127 died in a string of bombing attacks on educational and government institutions.

But there is more change on the horizon. The Iraqi presidential council scheduled parliamentary elections for March 7. Though delayed by two months, Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, says the date will not delay the planned pullout of combat forces as the U.S. transitions to an advisory role.

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