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Page last updated at 13:03 GMT, Wednesday, 16 July 2008 14:03 UK

Province handed to Iraqi control

US forces in Diwaniya - US army handout
Diwaniya has been the scene of fighting between rival Shia militia

Responsibility for security in the southern Iraqi province of Diwaniya has been transferred to local Iraqi forces.

It is the 10th of Iraq's 18 provinces to be transferred to the government.

Iraq's National Security Adviser, Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, said that the government hoped to control all the provinces by the end of the year.

However, the BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says that this is an ambitious goal, since some of the areas north of the capital have not yet been pacified.

Diwaniya, a mainly Shia area, has been the scene of fighting between rival Shia militias.

Last year, Iraqi and US troops were involved in a major operation there aimed at imposing stability.

More stable provinces

Our correspondent says the security handovers have so far concentrated on the more stable provinces - the three mainly Kurdish provinces in the north, and the mainly Shia ones in the south.

Iraq map

The predominantly Sunni province of Anbar to the west of Baghdad, once almost a synonym for the insurgency but recently much more peaceful, was to have been handed over last month.

There is reported to be a dispute over to whom exactly the US military would hand over control.

But overall, the violence countrywide is now at its lowest level since 2003.

That, our correspondent says, is in large measure attributed to the US troop "surge", which began last year and is now coming to an end.

Nevertheless, more than 140,000 US troops remain.

In the coming six weeks, US military and political leaders will be assessing whether further withdrawals can be made without risking a reversal of the gains achieved in the past year.

It is an issue that has become immensely politicised, both in Iraq and in the US presidential contest, our correspondent says.



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