By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
BAGHDAD, July 12, 2006 – The Iraqi government will announce tomorrow that for the first time, Iraqi police forces will take over security control of a province, the U.S. general in charge of coalition troops here said today. The transfer of responsibility will take place in Muthanna province, which borders Saudi Arabia, U.S. Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said at a news conference following a meeting here with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld is on an unannounced visit to Iraq to meet with U.S. military and Iraqi leaders here. Although Muthanna will be the first province where Iraqi security forces assume control of domestic law and order responsibilities, other provinces will soon follow suit, Casey said. The Iraqi army also is progressing well, an important step toward that objective, Casey noted. Four Iraqi divisions, 20 Iraqi brigades and more than 70 Iraqi battalions are in the lead in their respective areas, he said.
During today's meeting, Casey updated Rumsfeld on the security situation in Baghdad and advances among Iraqi security forces. Rumsfeld said he was "continually amazed and impressed" by the progress being made in Iraq.
Illegal arms groups that act as death squads, killing innocent civilians, pose a major challenge to the security situation in Baghdad, Casey said. This problem has escalated lately due to sectarian violence. Shiite groups are retaliating against Sunni extremist groups flaming that violence by attacking civilians in the wake of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death June 7, he said.
Casey said he plans to adjust the Iraqi security forces to target the death squads, and operations against the Zarqawi terrorist network continue. "All of you know that the security situation in Baghdad is difficult, and we're working very hard with the new government ... to take care of the terrorists and the death squads that are undermining the security situation," Casey said. After his meeting with Casey, Rumsfeld met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, his Cabinet and his national security team.