Iraq Given Control of Province

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 14, 2006

BAGHDAD, July 13 -- The Iraqi government assumed full military control of a province Thursday for the first time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, but a spate of bombings and assassinations underscored the persistent policing challenges in most of the country.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki attended a ceremony in the southern province of Muthanna to formalize the handover from British-led troops to Iraqi forces. Muthanna, one of Iraq's 18 provinces, has been relatively peaceful throughout the conflict, but Maliki warned that insurgents might stage attacks to mar the transfer.

"Terrorists who want to disrupt the handover of security and the success of the national unity government will not spare any effort to sabotage this step," Maliki said in the provincial capital of Samawa, according to news services.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., issued a joint statement calling the handover "a milestone in the successful development of Iraq's capability to govern and protect itself as a sovereign and democratic nation."

Violence flared again in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities Thursday, leaving at least 32 people dead as sectarian violence continued this week. In one incident, a bomb tethered to a bicycle exploded outside the city council office in Abi Saida, a town about 60 miles north of Baghdad, killing four people and wounding three, said Lt. Adnan Lefta of the Muqdadiyah police major crimes unit.

In the predominantly Shiite Muslim slum of Sadr City in Baghdad, a car bomb blew up near a gas station, killing seven people and injuring 16, according to Interior Ministry officials.

The coach of the national wrestling team, Mohammed Karim Abid Sahib, was killed when gunmen attempted to abduct him and one of his wrestlers near a sports center in the northern part of Baghdad, the Associated Press reported. The wrestler escaped.

Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Muhammed Jassim acknowledged that violence had "really escalated lately in Baghdad" and that Shiite and Sunni Arab extremists were responsible. He said daily reports of the civilian death toll indicated that Sunnis and Shiites were dying in "almost equal numbers" in attacks "faster than we can take action to stop it."

Car bomb attacks targeting police patrols killed nine people, including four policemen, and wounded 13 in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Apache Longbow helicopter crashed in Yusufiyah, an insurgent stronghold southwest of Baghdad, but the two pilots escaped unharmed and returned to duty, the U.S. military said. The cause of the crash was under investigation, a military spokesman said.

Also Thursday, the U.S. military said a Navy sailor was killed the previous day in fighting in the western province of Anbar. The military did not release the name of the sailor, who was part of the 9th Naval Construction Regiment, pending notification of relatives.

Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad and Hassan Shammari in Baqubah contributed to this report.

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