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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 April 2007, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Bombings mar Iraq handover plan
By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

Maysan governor Adel Mhoder and British commander Maj Gen Jonathan Shaw at security handover ceremony
Maysan is the fourth province to come under Iraqi control

A series of bombings in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, which have left more than 100 people dead, coincides with a statement from Prime Minister Nouri Maliki that Iraqi forces will take control of security in all of the country's provinces by the end of the year.

This was supposed to be a day when the Iraqi government could show it was making tangible progress towards the eventual withdrawal of foreign forces.

The British formally handed over the southern province of Maysan to the Iraqi authorities - the fourth of the country's 18 provinces to come, nominally at least, under Iraqi control.

The plan is that, by the end of the year, foreign forces will have handed over control of the whole country.

While unwilling to set a deadline for the departure of foreign troops, Prime Minister Maliki is anxious to signal that their presence is not open-ended.

Little headway

But the daunting problems his government faces - including the latest bombings in Baghdad - give the plan an air of unreality.

Two months after the reinforcement of US troops in the Iraqi capital - the much-vaunted "surge" - it is evident that militants, including suicide bombers, are still capable of carrying out significant and highly lethal attacks.

At the same time a government widely seen as weak and ineffectual has failed to make much headway towards its often-stated goal of national reconciliation.

The danger is that, in the absence of real progress, formal handovers will be little more than empty gestures.

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