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October 27, 2007
US Military hands Security Control in Karbala to Iraqi Government
In what is seen as a calculated gamble, the US military is handing responsibility for security in Karbala province over to the Iraqi government
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who is in charge of the 3rd Infantry Division, said the Iraqis were ready to assume full control of their own security in the south-central province, which holds the shrines of two major Shiite saints, Imam Abbas and Imam Hussein. But U.S. troops will remain ready to step in when help is needed. The peace agreement between the two major Shia militias - the Mahdi Army and Badr Organization - seems to be holding for the most part. There have been sporadic outbreaks of violence in recent weeks but nothing like the street fighting that was going on a few months ago.
Karbala will become only the eighth of Iraq's 18 provinces to revert to Iraqi control, despite President Bush's prediction in January that the Iraqi government would have responsibility for security in all of the provinces by November.
Lynch dismissed concerns about rivalries among Shiites, two months after clashes between militiamen battling for power erupted during a major pilgrimage in the provincial capital of 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.
The problem is Iran. The Iranians could easily ratchet up the violence because it is believed that they are in direct control of at least some of the militia commanders in the area.
While this is very encouraging news, it must be tempered with the realization that the security situation will be extremely complex and difficult to maintain. There are also other factions who could cause trouble if the situation arose so it is not likely that American troops will be able to breathe easy for months.