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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 September 2006, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Power handover in Iraqi province
Iraqi soldier on parade at the handover ceremony
Dhi Qar was the second Iraqi province to be handed over
UK and Italian forces in southern Iraq have handed over control of the province of Dhi Qar to Iraqi forces.

At a ceremony in the provincial capital, Nasiriya, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki described the handover as a "great day".

It is the second of 18 provinces to be handed over, following neighbouring Muthanna in July.

Dhi Qar is one of the country's less troubled provinces, and has been in the British area of control since 2003.

There are reports of a string of insurgency attacks across Iraq which claimed up to 32 casualties. The attacks included:

  • Six officers died in a mortar and gun attack on a police station in west Baghdad
  • A car bomb in a market in north-west Baghdad killed two people
  • At least three died in violence in Baghdad's Doura neighbourhood

Other deadly attacks are reported in Baqouba, Diwaniya, Diyala, Falluja and Mosul.

The continued violence means the handover in Dhi Qar is not being seen as a signal for a reduction in the overall levels of US-led coalition troops in Iraq.

Civilian deaths in Iraq are reaching unprecedented levels, with more than 6,500 people killed in July and August alone, the UN has said.

Emergency plans

The official handover in Dhi Qar took place to the sound of trumpet and drum, the BBC's Ian Pannell in Nasiriya reports.

Map
"Muthanna was first, now comes Dhi Qar to crown this victory, and other provinces will come to crown further victories until we reach our goal," Mr Maliki said.

Maj Gen Richard Sheriff, the commander of British forces in southern Iraq, echoed the prime minister's words.

"The provincial government of Dhi Qar has demonstrated that it is ready and capable of taking on responsibility for its security and government," he said.

Although the Iraqis will be taking over security responsibility for Dhi Qar province, British troops will retain what they are calling "operational over-watch" and coalition troops will be on hand to deal with any security emergency.

Italians leaving

Some 1,800 Italian troops have been responsible for much of the security work in Dhi Qar, including training thousands of Iraqi police and army forces.

Italian soldier secures the base at Nasiriya
Italian soldiers are preparing to leave Iraq
Those Italian troops are expected to return home within eight weeks, a UK military spokesman said.

There will not be any reduction in overall British troop levels, currently running at just over 7,000.

They are still fully engaged in the more troubled regional capital, Basra, where the situation has been worsening in recent months.

There is no indication when some of Iraq's other provinces may follow suit and be handed over.

US military commanders have said they expect to have to keep their own troops at their current high levels of over a 140,000 through next spring, far longer than they had hoped.




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VIPs attended as the military band played at the handover





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