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Iraq Officials Assume Control in An Najaf

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2006 – Iraqi officials in An Najaf assumed security control of the province today during a ceremony in the holy city of Najaf.

Coalition officials said the turn-over is an example of the political progress the Iraqis are making.

“Coalition forces have never lost a battle here in Iraq, but we know that we cannot win the peace alone,” said coalition spokesman U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell. “Today’s transition to provincial Iraqi control in Najaf, shows that our other efforts are having effects.”

The province is part of the Multinational Division Baghdad’s area of operations, and its population is mostly Shiia. U.S. troops are not based in the province, but Iraqi officials can call them in if they are needed, officials in Baghdad said.

“This handover is another example of Iraqis stepping up to take control of their own future and to find solutions to Iraq’s problems,” Caldwell said.

Iraqi unity government and coalition officials examined Najaf’s security situation and assessed the training and effectiveness of the provincial police and Iraqi army units there before recommending the transfer, officials in Baghdad said.

Provincial governor Asaad Abu Gilel al-Taie said he has a close working relationship with police and army commanders in the province.

Najaf is the spiritual heart of Islam’s Shiia sect. The city is the home of the Imam Ali Mosque – named after the leader whose death in the 7th century caused the schism between Sunni and Shiia Muslims. It is also the home of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most senior Shiia cleric. The city is the center of a pilgrimage each year with millions of Shiia from around the region.

“The coalition is dedicated to supporting the brave Iraqis as they struggle to emerge from 35 years of oppressive tyranny to build a secure, stable, and self-governing Iraq,” Caldwell said. “We win when they win.”

Caldwell said coalition officials hope the other 15 Iraqi provinces assume local security control by next fall.

An Najaf is the third province where local officials have assumed control. The British handed over al Muthanna and Dhi Qar provinces to local control in the summer. British officials said they hope to turn over the province centered around Basra to local control early next year.

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