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Province back in Iraqi hands

U.S. forces transfer control of Wasit, a transit point for weapons smuggling.

October 30, 2008|Times Wire Services

KUT, IRAQ — The U.S. military handed security responsibility for Wasit province to Iraqi authorities Wednesday, putting Baghdad in full control of 13 of the country's 18 provinces, including all of those in the mostly Shiite Muslim south.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been jointly seeking to shut down arms smuggling routes from Iran that use Wasit as a transit point before the weapons are taken elsewhere in Iraq. The weapons are thought to be going to Shiite militant groups.

U.S. forces will remain in the predominantly Shiite province to assist the Iraqis when needed.

Mowaffak Rubaie, the Iraqi national security advisor, lauded Wasit's Iraqi security forces when he addressed the transfer ceremony in the provincial capital, Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Wasit borders Iran and was a stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army militia before U.S.-backed Iraqi forces cracked down this year.

The No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, said at the ceremony that Wasit in March saw a weekly average of as many as 18 attacks but now goes weeks without an incident.

In Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed five people and wounded 17 others outside an ice cream shop, police said.

Three policemen were among the wounded, although police said they thought civilians were the main target.

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