US hands back province to Iraqis

Wasit becomes 13th province to be given over to Iraqi forces for security control.

    Lt Gen Lloyd Austin, right, hailed security progress in the southern province [AFP]

    With the transfer of Wasit, US forces will now withdraw to their bases and only participate in security operations at the request of the provincial governor.

    'Zero attacks'

    Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin, the number two commander of American forces in Iraq, said Wasit was once a route for "enemies to move weapons ... to attack Iraqi and coalition forces."
      

    Iraqi forces will now have security responsibilities in Wasit [AFP]

    "Till seven months back, Wasit saw 16-18 attacks each week. Now the province frequently has reached zero attacks largely due to high level of co-operation between all security units," he said.
      
    Rubaie said that Baghdad would take control of the northern provinces of Kirkuk and the Salaheddin "within weeks". 
      
    Apart from Kirkuk and Salaheddin, the other three provinces that remain under US military control are Baghdad, Nineveh and Diyala.
      
    Nineveh and Diyala are known al-Qaeda strongholds where security forces have launched a series of military operations targeting anti-government fighters. 
      
    Wasit has a 200km border with Iran and the US military has regularly accused Iranian groups of smuggling in weapons into Iraq for attacks against its troops.

    The Wasit handover came as Washington examined changes demanded by Baghdad to a draft agreement covering the long-term presence of US troops in Iraq.

    The Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa) would allow US forces to stay in Iraq after their UN mandate ends in December.

    Failure to seal the pact or renew the UN mandate would mean US operations would have to be halted.

    The draft agreement calls for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq by the end of 2011 and includes a concession allowing US troops who breach Iraqi laws while off duty and off their bases to face trial.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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