Iraq's army on Thursday marked the 90th anniversary of its 1921 founding with a huge military parade that included tanks and artillery weapons in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

Commander-in-chief Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, standing on a small wooden platform at the foot of the imposing Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, took the salute as hundreds of soldiers marched past in the Armed Forces Day parade.

Also on show were 10 Abrams tanks Iraq has bought from the United States, whose forces are to withdraw from the country this year. A total of 140 such tanks to be delivered by the end of 2011.

About 20 helicopters and 10 training aircraft flew over the parade, but there were no fighters, as most of those were destroyed in the 2003 US-led invasion."We in the national unity government will not let the army be politicised, and it will be for all, not for a specific faction," Maliki said in a speech after placing a wreath on the tomb.

"Under the dictatorship it became the authority's politicised army. It was the enemy army against neighbouring countries, and the people," he said, referring to the regime of executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

"While we are working on building a stable country, we want an army that doesn't carry any hatred for any country, and that is based on protecting the people, not like it was during the collapsed regime," Maliki said.

"All of us in the executive, legislative and judicial authorities, must work to build a non-politicised army that is able to protect the country, and must arm it and train it according to the needs of the country."

US forces dismantled the Iraqi army after toppling Saddam in 2003 in a move later widely panned for having put hundreds of thousands of men with military training out of work and potentially driving them into the arms of insurgents.

Since August 31, 2010, the main focus for the roughly 50,000 US troops remaining in the country is training police and the Iraqi army, which numbers about 300,000 men.

Under a security accord between Baghdad and Washington, the remaining American forces are to withdraw by the end of 2011.But though US forces are to withdraw, army chief of staff Lieutenant General Babaker Zebari has said the Iraqi army will still need American support.

"The army will be fully ready in 2020," Zebari told AFP in August. "If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the US army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020."

According to an AFP tally based on figures from the Iraqi defence, interior and health ministries released over the course of 2010, 429 soldiers were killed in violence that year -- an increase of 204 on the year before.

Maliki, who was approved by parliament for a second term of office along with a national unity cabinet on December 21 after more than nine months of political deadlock, has cited security as one of his top three priorities.

By Jacques Clement (



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