Sunday, October 28, 2007


US forces are to hand over control of security in the Shia province of Karbala to Iraqi troops early next week, US and Iraqi officials say. US troops will remain in reserve positions to assist if called upon.
The province, 80km (50 miles) south of Baghdad, has been relatively calm but has seen rivalry between Shia factions.
In August, at least 50 people were killed in clashes between security forces and Shia fighters during a religious festival in Karbala city.
Karbala will be the eighth of Iraq's 18 provinces to come under Iraqi control despite a January statement by US President George W Bush that the process would be complete by November.

Iraqi and US military officials have downplayed concerns over rivalries between Shia factions in the province.
"This place is about a struggle for power and influence and there are indeed inter-Shia rivalries where different groups are trying to be in charge and sometimes they revert to violence," said the US commander in the province, Maj Gen Rick Lynch.

US commanders say Shia rivalries are not a significant problem"But it's not at the magnitude that's got me concerned," he told Associated Press news agency.
He said that from Monday he would "revert from being in charge of the security situation to being in support of the security situation".
The province's governor, Akhil al-Khazali, said Iraqi forces were ready for the mission.
"In spite of all the challenges we faced during those clashes we are determined to take over the responsibility," he told AFP news agency.
The provincial capital, the city of Karbala, is the site of two important Shia shrines.
The Shabaniyah festival had to be cut short in August as fighting broke out when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were in the city to mark the anniversary of the 12th Shia imam.
Gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles forced their way past security checkpoints and appeared to be trying to take control of the area around the shrines.



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