Security of Karbala province to be handed over to Iraqis
American forces will turn over security to Iraqi authorities in the southern Shiite province of Karbala on Monday, the American commander for the area said, despite fighting between rival factions that has killed dozens. Karbala will become the eighth of Iraq's 18 provinces to revert to Iraqi control.
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who leads the 3rd Infantry Division, said the Iraqis were prepared to assume full control of their own security in Karbala province, home to shrines of two major Shiite saints, Imam Abbas and Imam Hussein. American troops would remain ready to step in if help were needed.
Lynch dismissed concerns about Shiite rivalries in the region, two months after clashes between militiamen battling for power erupted during a major pilgrimage in the provincial capital, also called Karbala, left at least 52 people dead. "Of course there's violence in the area but not nearly of the magnitude that would cause me to be troubled by it," he told The Associated Press on Saturday.
"This place is about a struggle for power and influence and there are indeed inter-Shia rivalries where different groups are trying to be in charge and sometimes they revert to violence, but it's not at the magnitude that's got me concerned," he said.
Lynch insisted the Iraqis were ready to take over. "They've established a Karbala operations command that works with the Iraqi prime minister, and when security problems arise it's the Iraqi solution to the problem, not the coalition solution to the problem," he said.
The provincial police chief, Brig. Gen. Raed Shakir, said more than 10,000 Iraqi security forces were "fully prepared" to maintain order. "During the past days, our forces were able to confront and chase armed groups without the help of the multinational forces. We were able to restore security by our own. This shows that we can work independently from the multinational forces," he said.