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Iraq takes command of its military today

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published September 7, 2006


BAGHDAD - Iraq will take control of its armed forces command today, a major step on its painful path toward independence and an essential move before international troops can eventually withdraw.

Despite the progress, there was more bloodshed with at least 36 people killed across the country in car bombs, mortar attacks and drive-by shootings. Police also found 29 bodies.

"This is such a huge, significant event that's about to occur tomorrow," Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman, said of the shift in the Iraqi command. "If you go back and you map out significant events that have occurred in this government's formation in taking control of the country, tomorrow is gigantic."

The highly anticipated ceremony, which will put the prime minister in direct control of the military, comes five days after it was originally scheduled. The government abruptly called off the original ceremony at the last minute.

The United States and the Iraqis did not publicly reveal many details of the disagreement, other than to say it was more procedural than substantive.

After the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, the United States disbanded what was left of the defeated Iraqi army. The U.S.-led coalition has been training and equipping the new Iraqi military, hoping it soon will be in a position to take over security for the entire country and allow foreign troops to return home.

But it is still unclear how fast this can be done.

"It's the prime minister's decision how rapidly he wants to move along with assuming control," Caldwell said. In today's ceremony, the prime minister will take control of Iraq's small naval and air forces, and the 8th Iraqi Army Division.

"They can move as rapidly thereafter as they want. I know, conceptually, they've talked about perhaps two divisions a month," Caldwell said.

On Wednesday, the killing continued.

In the deadliest attack, two bombs targeting an Iraqi army patrol exploded in northern Baghdad within minutes at a busy intersection, killing at least nine people and wounding 39, police said. Two of the dead and eight of the wounded were Iraqi soldiers, police said. In northeastern Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on a procession of pilgrims heading to the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, killing one person and wounding two.

Tens of thousands are expected in Karbala on Saturday to observe Shaaban, a religious celebration. Many of the pilgrims travel to the city on foot. State television said a vehicle curfew had been imposed in Karbala from Wednesday night until the end of the celebration.

Meanwhile, a dispute over Iraq's flag also showed no signs of abating.

Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region, angered many in Baghdad with his decision last week to replace the Iraqi national flag with the Kurdish banner. The Kurdish region has been gaining more autonomy since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, a worrying development to many Iraqi leaders, especially Sunni Arabs.

Although Iraq's first interim Governing Council after the fall of Saddam Hussein decided to change the country's flag, no official version has been adopted.

[Last modified September 7, 2006, 01:27:43]


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