Fri, Sep 08, 2006 - Page 7 News List

US handing over command of Iraq's army

AGENCIES , BAGHDAD

The US was set yesterday to hand over formal command of Iraqi troops to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government, a significant step towards the withdrawal of some 150,000 US-led foreign troops.

The spokesman for the US military in Iraq, US Major General William Caldwell, said the importance of the handover was "gigantic."

Maliki, a Shiite Islamist, expects Iraqi forces to control most of the country's provinces by the end of the year, but analysts have questioned that timetable.

They say Iraqi security forces remain heavily dependent on US troops for logistical support to combat a Sunni insurgency and sectarian violence that kills an estimated 100 people a day.

Just hours before General George Casey was due to hand over command of Iraqi troops, two suicide car bombers killed 13 people and wounded 27 in Baghdad.

The first blast killed 10 people and wounded 17 near a gasoline station allocated for police use. Three of the dead were policemen.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Abdul Karim Khalaf said "18 vehicles were destroyed of which 12 were civilian cars and the rest belonged to the police."

The second bomber killed three civilians and wounded 20 more in a roadside bombing near a Sunni mosque in northeast Baghdad, the security official said.

The attack was against a police patrol near Al-Nida mosque in Baghdad's Al-Qahira neighborhood.

"But all the casualties are civilians," the official said.

Two roadside bombs targeting police patrols also killed one civilian and wounded four.

Questions have been raised over the preparedness of Iraq's 130,000-strong army after Shiite gunmen in the south killed some 20 Iraqi soldiers in street clashes last month and the refusal of Shiite troops to be deployed in religiously mixed Baghdad to shore up a US-led security clampdown.

Once Iraqi troops take command, their sectarian loyalties will be sorely tested as Maliki struggles to contain soaring communal violence.

Iraqi parliament Speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani told a heated session on Wednesday: "We have three to four months to reconcile with each other. If the country doesn't survive this, it will go under."

Meanwhile, one police officer was killed and four wounded by a roadside bomb attack east of Kirkuk in northern Iraq.

In other developments, Iraq has executed 27 "terrorists" convicted by Iraqi courts of killings and rapes in several provinces, the government said yesterday.

They were executed in Baghdad on Wednesday, the government's media office said in a brief statement.

A senior justice official said all 27 were Iraqis, and two had been convicted of terrorism-related charges. The others, including one woman, were convicted of murder and kidnappings. The sentences were carried out by hanging, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media about the executions.

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