Iraq takes over command of armed forces; legislative session turns into shouting match

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ U.S.-led forces turned over control of Iraq&#39;s military command to the Shiite-led government Thursday, a key step toward the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops. <br/><br/>But

Thursday, September 7th 2006, 4:01 pm

By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ U.S.-led forces turned over control of Iraq's military command to the Shiite-led government Thursday, a key step toward the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops.

But the ceremony in the heavily fortified Green Zone only transferred authority for one of Iraq's 10 divisions and its small air force and navy, and it remained unclear how quickly Iraqi forces would be prepared to take over security.

A legislative session nearby, meanwhile, degenerated into a shouting match as Sunni Arabs accused the majority Shiites of seeking to carve Iraq into sectarian enclaves.

Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani interrupted a session after a draft bill submitted by the largest Shiite party led to accusations from Sunni Arabs that they were trying to divide Iraq. A live broadcast from parliament was pulled off the air amid acrimonious debate.

Sunni Arab legislator Saleh al-Mutlaq threatened his people ``will not stay in a parliament that leads to the division of Iraq'' and threatened to boycott any session that sought to approve such legislation.

The concept of federalism is enshrined in the new Iraqi constitution, and the Kurds in the north already have their own autonomous region. However, special legislation and a referendum would be needed to establish a federation comprised of autonomous regions.

Both the north and mainly Shiite south are rich in oil, and Sunni Arabs could end up squeezed into Baghdad and Iraq's western provinces, which have no resources. Many Sunnis fear that federalism will lead to the breakup of the country.

On Thursday, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a document taking control of Iraq's small naval and air forces and the 8th Iraqi Army Division, based in the south.

The top U.S. general in Iraq, George Casey, promised to ``continue to fight with you to protect the Iraqi people wherever they are threatened.''

``Today is an important milestone, but we still have a way to go,'' Casey said during the ceremony.

Handing over control of the country's security to Iraqi forces is vital to any eventual drawdown of U.S. forces here. After disbanding the remaining Iraqi army following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, coalition forces have been training the new Iraqi military.

The nine other Iraqi divisions remain under U.S. control, with authority gradually being transferred. U.S. military officials said there was no specific timetable for the transition but U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said Wednesday the Iraqis have ``talked about perhaps two divisions a month.''

And, in an apparent blow to press freedom in Iraq, the government ordered the Arabic satellite network Al-Arabiya to shut its Baghdad operations for one month, state television reported. The network said Iraqi police came to its offices Thursday to enforce the order issued by al-Maliki's Cabinet.

Al-Arabiya said it did not know why it was being shut down. In July, al-Maliki warned television stations against broadcasting footage that could undermine the country's stability.

Attacks across Iraq killed at least 25 people. In Baghdad, six bombings _ including three by suicide car bombers _ killed at least 17 people.

The U.S. military command also said two soldiers and a Marine were killed Wednesday in separate incidents. One soldier and the Marine died in Anbar province west of Baghdad and the other soldier was killed near Hawija, 150 miles north of the capital.

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