Tags: U.S. | Iraq | Expect | Handover | Agreement | Next | Week

U.S., Iraq Expect Handover Agreement Next Week

Monday, 04 September 2006 12:00 AM

BAGHDAD -- The United States and Iraq hope to sign an agreement by next week to hand operational command of Iraq's new army to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, an aide said on Monday, after wrangles on wording had held up the accord.

Transferring security from U.S.-led forces to the Iraqi army it is training is key to Washington's plans to withdraw its 140,000 troops. A handover ceremony set for Saturday was delayed over disagreements between Baghdad and Washington over the wording of a document outlining their armies' new relationship.

"Both sides have agreed on the main issues. I think the document is ready to be signed, probably by the end of this week or early next week," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters, adding remaining disagreements were "technicalities".

He denied there had ever been a serious disagreement.

The agreement, which the U.S. military says is a key step toward Iraq taking responsibility for its security, lays out a gradual transfer of command from U.S. forces to Iraqi units.

Under the timetable, every two weeks command of Iraqi units meeting certain criteria would be transferred until, by April 1, Iraqi troops in even the Sunni insurgent strongholds of Ramadi and Falluja would no longer be under U.S. command, Dabbagh said.

In parallel with this, control of security is being handed over province by province to Iraqi leaders, a process Dabbagh said would largely be complete this year, requiring U.S. forces then to receive approval for any movements across the country.

Defence Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said Iraqi government lawyers had recommended that some articles of the document, drafted by U.S.-led forces, be rewritten.

"Our legal advisers are asking us for some time to reconsider these articles and to rewrite them. It is a very important document because it deals with the whole handover of sovereignty," Askari told reporters.

U.S. spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson said the disagreements were a "legalistic matter" and predicted the document would be signed soon.

With U.S. forces in Iraq dying almost daily and the threat of a sectarian civil war looming, the U.S. military is anxious for Iraq's new army to take over security.

Although mindful of his dependency on U.S. military power, Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is keen to be seen winning independence from Washington. A government source told Reuters Maliki was pushing for guarantees that his forces would have freedom to make decisions independently.

INSURGENTS KILLED

One day after Iraq announced it had "severely wounded" al Qaeda in Iraq after the arrest of a man it identified as the Sunni Islamist group's second most senior figure, the Iraqi army said it killed fourteen suspected insurgents who had been plotting to attack Shi'ite pilgrims south of Baghdad.

The military said it had received intelligence that insurgents in Jurf al-Sakhar, a mainly Sunni town 85 km (55 miles) south of Baghdad planned to attack pilgrims heading to the holy Shi'ite city of Kerbala. Pilgrims are a frequent target for Sunni rebels fighting Maliki's Shi'ite-led government.

But an Iraqi al Qaeda-led group questioned the alleged rank of Juma Faris al-Suaidi, whom Iraq's national security adviser called the deputy of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who took over the group after U.S. forces killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June.

"We bring good tidings to our brethren that all our leaders are well, praise God, leading the ranks," the Mujahideen Shura Council said in an Internet statement.

Despite Iraq's reported successes on the battlefield, sectarian violence that that pushed the country close to civil war raged on.

The bodies of 33 men, some with their hands bound and bearing signs of torture, were found across Baghdad on Monday, an Interior Ministry source said. All had been shot.

(c) Reuters 2006. All rights reserved.

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BAGHDAD -- The United States and Iraq hope to sign an agreement by next week to hand operational command of Iraq's new army to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, an aide said on Monday, after wrangles on wording had held up the accord. Transferring security from U.S.-led...
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Monday, 04 September 2006 12:00 AM
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