BAGHDAD, Iraq — Italy formally handed over security responsibility of the southern Dhi Qar province to Iraqi forces Thursday, making it the second of Iraq’s 18 provinces to be handed over to local control.
In scattered violence around the country, more than 15 people were killed including six policemen whose western Baghdad station was hit with mortar and gunfire. More mutilated bodies were found, the apparent victims of death squads, and the U.S. command said one American soldier was killed when a bomb exploded next to his vehicle in the north of the capital the day before.
In a formal ceremony in Dhi Qar’s capital of Nasiriyah, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki thanked Italian Defense Minister Arturo Parisi for his country’s help in the province.
The overall U.S. strategy calls for coalition forces to redeploy to larger bases and let Iraqis become responsible for their security in specific regions. The larger bases can act in a support or reserve role. A final stage would involve the drawdown of troops from Iraq.
With the handover, Iraqis will now be responsible for security in the province, calling in coalition troops only when they are needed for support.
Italy’s force of some 1,600 troops is now expected to be mostly withdrawn by the year’s end.
Italy’s military has reported 32 deaths in Iraq, including 19 killed in the bombing of a military barracks on November 12, 2003. Only hours before the handover ceremony, another Italian soldier died in an accident in southern Iraq, the Italian defense ministry said.
Al-Maliki has said that Iraqi army and police plan to take over security for all of Iraq’s provinces within the next 18 months. British troops handed over control of southern Muthana province in July.
“It is a great day, it holds the message of the future handover of security control in all of Iraq,” al-Maliki said.
In a joint statement, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. military official in Iraq, lauded the handover as “another sign of progress toward a stable and secure Iraq.”