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A first: Iraqis in charge of province

Published July 14, 2006

BAGHDAD - Iraqi forces for the first time took over security responsibility for an entire province Thursday, a milestone in the American plan to transfer control of the entire country by the end of next year.

British Maj. Gen. John Cooper signed the document turning over responsibility for Muthanna, a relatively peaceful, sparsely populated Shiite province that had been under British and Australian control.

"It is a great national day that will be registered in the history of Iraq," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a ceremony in the provincial capital of Samawah. "This step will bring happiness to all Iraqis."

The strategy of transferring all 18 provinces to Iraqi control depends on the capability of Iraq's newly trained police and army to maintain order against threats by Sunni insurgents and sectarian militias. Maliki warned that terrorists were bent on upsetting the process and destroying Iraq's national unity.

"They will spare no effort to destroy this step and ensure that no further steps are taken," Maliki said. "But, with solidarity and patience, you will cut off the hands that want to sabotage this region."

Only about 700 British and Australian troops were stationed in Muthanna, along with about 600 Japanese soldiers on a separate humanitarian mission. The British and Australians will redeploy in southern Iraq.

Coalition forces are expected to hand over responsibility soon in other quiet southern provinces. If all goes well, the U.S.-led coalition plans to transfer responsibility for the 17 other provinces by the end of next year.

U.S. and other international troops would then allow the Iraqis to run security while staying in reserve in case of a crisis. That would be followed by a third stage in which U.S. troops would leave Iraq.

Nevertheless, violence continued Thursday. At least 31 people were killed, mostly in Baghdad and surrounding provinces, police said,

A U.S. Army attack helicopter crashed Thursday during a combat patrol southwest of Baghdad, but the two pilots survived and returned to duty, the U.S. command said. The statement did not say why the AH-64D Apache Longbow crashed.

The U.S. military announced that an American sailor was killed Wednesday in Anbar province.

U.S. military deaths have dropped sharply this month, with 11 American fatalities reported so far in July. The military said 62 Americans died in June and 69 in May.

But the decline in U.S. losses has been coupled with a sharp rise in sectarian violence in Baghdad and surrounding provinces.

The ministers of defense and interior appeared before Parliament on Thursday to discuss the security crisis in Baghdad. Most of the session was closed for security reasons.

CBO forecasts possible Iraq cost of $500-billion

WASHINGTON - The war in Iraq has cost almost $300-billion and would total almost a half-trillion dollars even if all U.S. troops were withdrawn by the end of 2009, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis released Thursday.

Congress has approved $432-billion for military operations and other costs related to combating terror since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The new CBO study is the first analysis by Congress' scorekeeping agency of how much of that has been allocated for the Iraq war.

Since 2003, the tally of appropriations for Iraq is $291-billion, CBO said. The CBO study estimated future appropriations based on two scenarios provided by Democratic Rep. John Spratt Jr., who commissioned the study.

The more optimistic scenario would maintain 2007 troop levels at 140,000, but would drop quickly thereafter with almost all troops out by the end of 2009. Under it, the Iraq war would cost $184-billion more over the 2007-2010 budget years.

Under a more pessimistic scenario, with a slower drawdown of troops and a continued U.S. presence of 40,000 over the long term, the Iraq war would cost $406-billion over the next decade, CBO said.

A recent competing analysis by the Congressional Research Service puts the tally for Iraq at $319-billion with the war in Afghanistan costing $88-billion. The lower CBO estimate only includes appropriations passed since the war in Iraq began.

[Last modified July 14, 2006, 02:56:38]

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