Premier Calls Iraqi Forces Ready to Extend Control

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 18, 2006

BAGHDAD, Aug. 17 -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Thursday that Iraqi forces were prepared to take over security in most provinces if the U.S. military withdraws, as at least 23 Iraqis and an American soldier were killed in violence across the country.

The bloodshed, which included a car bomb in Baghdad that killed at least eight people, came as U.S. and Iraqi forces attempt to thwart the growing sectarian violence engulfing the country.

The U.S.-led military coalition has set no timetable for removing troops from Iraq, but Maliki said in a statement that Iraqis "have become capable of taking over security tasks in the majority of the provinces and that they will be able to fill the vacuum in case the Multi-National Forces withdraw."

Iraqi forces have taken full military control of only one province so far -- Muthanna, in a relatively calm area of southern Iraq -- but Maliki said they would soon take security responsibility of the area around Diwaniyah, in Qadisiyah province.

The explosion Thursday in Baghdad occurred about noon in the mainly Shiite area of Sadr City, killing eight people and wounding 13, according to Col. Sami Hassan of the Interior Ministry. Al-Iraqiya television reported that the blast killed 12 and wounded 25.

A U.S. soldier on foot patrol was killed when an improvised explosive device exploded Thursday morning south of Baghdad. The military said that another soldier, from the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, was killed in action Wednesday in Anbar province, a volatile stronghold for Sunni insurgents.

In Diyala province, north of Baghdad, 11 people were killed in a spate of attacks, authorities said. Three brothers who worked at a shop that sells birds were killed when unidentified gunmen attacked a market in Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of the capital. Another person was shot dead in the Tahrir neighborhood south of the city.

Gunmen killed two police officers in Mafreq, south of Baqubah, authorities said. Five civilians were killed in attacks in Jibainat, on the outskirts of Baqubah, and in Mandali, 40 miles outside the city.

In Sinjar, a town in northern Iraq near the Syrian border, a car bomb killed four civilians in a passing car and wounded five others, according to Hassan, the Interior Ministry official.

Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi, Naseer Nouri and other Washington Post staff contributed to this report.

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