- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2008

DIWANIYAH, Iraq (Agence France-Presse) | Iraq took control of security in the Shi’ite province of Diwaniyah on Wednesday and said it hopes to regain control of the entire country from U.S.-led forces by end of the year.

“We are receiving the security file” of Diwaniyah, deputy parliament speaker Sheik Khalid al-Attiya said at the transfer ceremony.

“This day represents a bright page in a series of achievements that show the ability and the strength of the Iraqi forces.”

Diwaniyah, formerly known as Qadisiyah, is the 10th province to be handed over to Iraqi security amid a decrease in violence nationwide.

Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin hailed the achievements made by the province’s military and civilian leaders.

“This ceremony isn’t just about the level of security. It is also about improvement in government administration,” he added.

“We will continue to stand by Iraqi security forces as they try to establish sustainable security.”

Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak Rubaie said the growing confidence shown by the country’s security forces lends optimism that the remaining eight provinces could be returned to Iraqi control by December.

“We hope that we will reach the 18th province before the end of the current year,” Mr. Rubaie said in his speech at the hand-over.

He called on provincial leaders of Diwaniyah to build on the improved security to rebuild the local economy.

“We thank the multinational forces for their contribution to the stability and security of this province,” he said.

The U.S. military says the Iraqi security forces have been growing in strength amid a fall in violence nationwide to a four-year low.

Diwaniyah has seen repeated clashes among Shi’ite factions - notably between the radical movement of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the rival Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, a key member of the governing coalition.

In November, Iraqi and U.S. troops launched a major offensive in Diwaniyah in a bid to stabilize the province of approximately 1 million people.

More than 3,000 Iraqi soldiers and police supported by tanks and hundreds of U.S. and Polish troops participated in the assault to flush Shi’ite militiamen from the province’s capital, also called Diwaniyah.

Nearly 100 militiamen were detained during the operation, many of them loyal to Mr. al-Sadr.

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