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Britain Hands Control of Basra to Iraqi Forces

  • VOA News

British forces have handed over security responsibility for Iraq's southern province of Basra to Iraqi authorities.

The commander of British forces in Basra Major General Graham Binns signed a transfer agreement at a ceremony on Sunday attended by Iraqi and British officials. The event included a parade of Iraqi soldiers and military equipment.

Basra is the last of four Iraqi provinces to be transferred by British forces to Iraqi control. It also is the ninth of Iraq's 18 provinces to be handed back to Iraqi authorities by coalition troops since the 2003 invasion.

Britain has said it will keep a reduced force in southern Iraq to train Iraqi forces and provide combat support if necessary.

US officials in Baghdad welcomed the Basra handover but said Iraqi provincial and military leaders still have work to do to improve security and establish self-reliance.

Basra is an almost exclusively Shi'ite city where rival militias have fought each other for influence. The main Shi'ite factions recently agreed to a truce, helping to reduce violence in the area.

Britain plans to cut its current Iraq deployment of 45-hundred troops in half by the middle of next year.

Elsewhere in Iraq, a tribal leader tells VOA (Kurdish service) that his fighters have killed three al-Qaida in Iraq militants in a battle in the northern city of Mosul.

The tribal chief, Sheikh Fawaz al-Jirba, heads the Mosul Awakening Council -- a tribal alliance that claims 20-thousand militiamen and has turned against al-Qaida.

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