American troops have opened two lanes of traffic along the major north-south route in Iraq, allowing Iraqi civilian drivers access for the first time since shortly after the war began in March 2003.

Two lanes are now open along what troops know as Main Supply Route Tampa, which has been the road followed by tens of thousands of military convoys moving from Kuwait into locations in Iraq.

Reopening the highway is part of the shift of security responsibilities to Iraqi forces under the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement that outlines the American withdrawal.

"We stand on a route where people have traveled ... for thousands of years," U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher R. Hill said at a ceremony marking the opening of the lanes. "This has been one of the main routes from the Fertile Crescent down to the sea."

"When we have a moment like this, a moment where we can mark important progress, we should stop and think about those difficult times and think about how we are going to make a better future."

The route goes past Convoy Support Center Scania, the main refueling point for convoys heading both north and south. The lanes had been closed in part to protect Scania, forcing Iraqis to take a bumpy, dangerous dirt road detour.

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