In all, more than two-thirds of Iraq has been transferred to the
security authority of the Baghdad government. Officials said this included
the entire Shi'ite-dominated south, including the Babil province,
relayed to the Iraqi government on Oct. 23.
"The national and local government now has responsibility for security
and governance in all of southern Iraq," U.S. Defense Department spokesman
Geoff Morrell said. "It is our hope that Iraqis can take charge of security
for the final five provinces in the coming months."
Officials said U.S. State Department personnel would remain in Wasit to
oversee reconstruction efforts. They said the remaining five provinces —
Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Nineveh and Salah Eddin — were deemed the most
dangerous in Iraq and would be handed over in 2009.
"The remaining provinces are particularly challenging, but with each
passing day, the Iraqi army and police are growing in capacity, capability
and confidence," Morrell said. "Our forces are working hard to help the
Iraqi government recruit, train and equip security forces that can one day
protect all Iraqis from internal and external threats."
Lt. Col. Amy Hannah, a Multi-National Force-Iraq spokeswoman, said the
coalition would continue to be based at Multi-National Division-Center in
Wasit. Ms. Hannah said the center, operated by the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain
Division, has maintained 2,200 combat and support troops in the province and
could be summoned by Wasit's governor.
"We are working together to provide the security needed for the
stability and prosperity Iraqis need to move forward in their lives," Ms.
The Iraqi government has been building its army and police in the south.
In Wasit, more than 13,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers have been
stationed in the province. In 2005, Wasit contained fewer than 1,500
Iraqi and U.S. forces have stepped up operations against Iranian-backed
militias in several Iraqi provinces. On Oct. 30, the forces captured in
Maysan a suspected financier of the so-called Hizbullah Brigades, trained by
the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah in both Iraq and Lebanon.
"As we have always said, Al Qaida and other terrorist groups here have
been dealt a serious blow by Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi people and
coalition forces, but they are still a dangerous element," Ms. Hannah said.