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New leader says Iraqis to take more control
The Washington Post
BAGHDAD, Iraq — The new Iraqi prime minister said Monday that his government would begin taking responsibility for the security of the country from foreign troops next month, with the goal of having Iraqi control of most provinces by the end of the year.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, at a news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said the Iraqi police and army would take control of two relatively stable provinces beginning in June. He said he hoped that all but two of Iraq's 18 provinces would be handed over to Iraqi control by December.
Blair declined to offer a specific timeline for handing over control, saying any shift depended on conditions on the ground. Instead, he praised the Iraqis for electing a democratic, constitutional government, saying they have given the country a chance to shape its own future and robbed insurgents of a reason to keep fighting.
"It's been three years of struggle to get to this point, and it's been longer and harder than any of us wanted it to be, but this is a new beginning," said Blair. The 8,000 British troops in Iraq are the second-largest contingent of foreign forces after the 133,000 U.S. troops now there.
A joint statement by Blair and al-Maliki said that the process of transferring security powers "would start in some provinces in the coming months, and by the end of this year responsibility for much of Iraq's territorial security should have been transferred to Iraqi control."
Al-Maliki had been more specific, telling reporters earlier that there had been an agreement to transfer security of Muthanna and Maysan provinces — both have been relatively calm — in June. He said the handover would be completed by the end of the year in the rest of the country, "except for Baghdad and maybe Anbar," a restive province where a U.S. Marine was killed Sunday.
But al-Maliki noted that Iraq's force of 264,000 soldiers and police officers was still being built up to a full strength of 325,000 men, and that "Iraq still needs more support."
Iraqi troops have taken over patrolling duties in many calmer parts of the country, and U.S. commanders say the new Iraqi army conducts many small operations on its own. But overall control still belongs to foreign commanders, who have authority over the supplies and airpower that make large-scale operations possible.
In Washington, President Bush called the creation of a new Iraqi government a "turning point" and a "watershed event" Monday, but conceded that progress in Iraq is slow going, and more pain and loss lie ahead for Americans.
"Our nation's been through three difficult years in Iraq," Bush said in Chicago. "And the way forward will bring more days of challenge and loss. The progress we've made has been hard-fought, and it's been incremental."
The Arab League extended diplomatic overtures to the new Iraqi government, saying it would send its first political delegation to the country since the fall of longtime ruler Saddam Hussein. As Blair and Mukhtar Lamani, the league's envoy to Iraq, made their rounds in Baghdad, at least 30 Iraqis were killed by bomb blasts in the capital, police said.
In the most severe incident, two car bombs exploded simultaneously at a busy market in a predominantly Shiite district of eastern Baghdad, killing 24 people, army Lt. Ahmad Jasim Hassan said. A police brigadier general, however, said 10 people had died in the attack.
The trial of Saddam and seven co-defendants — implicated in the killing in the 1980s of 148 people from the town of Dujail — resumed as well.
The trial, which has been notably calmer since Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman took over in January, on Monday was the scene of a quarrel between Abdel Rahman and a defense attorney, Bushra al-Khalil, who during her last appearance in court was kicked out for showing pictures of the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.
This time, after standing up and asking for clarification on court regulations, al-Khalil was told by the judge to sit down. She did not, and guards were ordered to remove her from the courtroom, even as she tried to slap them away. "This is a gangster, not a lawyer," Abdel Rahman said after she had left.
Information from The New York Daily News
is included in this report.
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