* "The Iraqi security forces must be battle-ready and capable of undertaking counter-terrorism operations. The proposed areas must also have coordination plans for the national army, the local police and U.S.-led forces should a terrorist attack occur.
* "Districts must have an elected civilian government capable of managing the Iraqi security forces assigned there and functioning courts and detention facilities.
* "U.S.-led forces must retain the capability and authorization to respond to Iraqi-controlled areas if Iraqi security forces are overwhelmed by insurgents."
The number of Iraqi soldiers and police officers has grown from 111,000 a year ago to more than 200,000, U.S. officials say. But congressional testimony revealed that only one battalion was capable of independently planning and executing counterinsurgency missions.
Casey, the highest-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, has argued that Iraqi troops' readiness does not necessarily need to be substantially increased before the U.S. considers troop reductions. "Over the past 18 months, we have built enough Iraqi capacity where we can begin talking seriously about transitioning this counterinsurgency mission to them," Casey told a Senate subcommittee in September.
Most areas that have been transferred to Iraqi control are relatively stable and lack large rebel movements. Other areas, such as Tikrit, are another matter.
Tikrit is a predominantly Sunni Muslim Arab area that still has a significant insurgent presence. Sniper fire and mortar rounds remain threats, even on the base in Hussein's former palace. A few weeks ago, a mortar round seriously wounded an American soldier at the base, where trailers are parked amid rosebushes, metal bunks are stacked in ornate bedrooms and noisy gas generators power the chandeliers.
Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Taluto told Pentagon reporters via videoconference Friday that the U.S. intended to hand over the Tikrit complex next month. Ten U.S. bases in his area of operations have been shuttered or transferred to Iraqi forces since February, he said.
"There are plans to hand over parts of some very tough places," said Lt. Col. Fred Wellman, a spokesman for the Multinational Security Transition Command, which is helping to train Iraqi security forces. "If Iraqis own the battle space in one place, it means that we can go somewhere else. This has already been the case in Baghdad."
Elements of the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which had been based in Baghdad, for example, recently took part in battles in the northern city of Tall Afar.
But with many Iraqi divisions still far from war-ready, military experts question whether the army and police can control areas where tens of thousands of members of militias, typically sectarian or ethnic in nature, are entrenched.
Although one proposed prerequisite for transferring security is creating weapons confiscation programs, several cities that are largely under Iraqi control, including Kirkuk in the Kurdish region and the Shiite Muslim shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala, continue to have large militia contingents.
"The militias are a difficult issue," Rubaie said. "When we have Iraqi security forces capable of keeping the security of the country and controlling it, we will implement a detailed disarmament program. A weapons hand-over is the answer, but these conditions are flexible."
Times staff writer Mark Mazzetti in Washington contributed to this report.