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U.S. opens consulate in southern Iraq

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The last U.S. consulate in Basra closed in 1967
  • The new consulate is part of a more traditional bilateral relationship
  • The consulate replaces provisional transition teams
  • All U.S. troops are set to withdraw from Iraq by January 1
  • Basra
  • Iraq
  • United States

Baghdad (CNN) -- The United States opened a consulate Tuesday in Basra, the first such diplomatic presence in the southern Iraqi city in more than four decades.

The new consulate comes days after the United States handed over three joint security stations in southern Iraq to Iraqi authorities as part of the American troop withdrawal from Iraq.

The last U.S. consulate in Basra closed in 1967.

Basra was the scene of intense fighting at the start of the Iraq war in 2003 and served as a hub for thousands of British troops, the last of whom withdrew in May.

The opening of the U.S. consulate is part of a transition from a military-led, security-dominated relationship with Iraq to a civilian-led, broader, more traditional bilateral relationship. Washington plans to open a second consulate in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

The consulates replace provincial reconstruction teams that have worked in tandem with the U.S. military in Iraq and are touted as a commitment to freedom and democracy shared by Americans and Iraqis.

"We pledge our continued support to the Iraqi people in establishing a sovereign, stable, self-reliant country," said Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, who attended the opening ceremony.

Roughly 47,000 American troops remain in Iraq but are due to withdraw by January 1, 2012, under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact, though Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is consulting with lawmakers over whether to request troops stay beyond the deadline.