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UPDATED: 21:44, December 20, 2006
U.S-led forces hand over security of Najaf province to Iraqis
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U.S.-led coalition forces handed over security control of Najaf province to Iraqi forces on Wednesday in third such transfer of an entire province.

"It is a major step forward in improving security and strengthening the authority of the government," U.S. Major General Kurt Cichowski, who oversaw the transfer of authority, told a gathering of political and religious leaders in the Najaf Stadium south of Baghdad.

"Coalition forces will continue to provide support if called upon," Cichowski said.

"Today marks a historic event for the great country of Iraq," U. S. commander Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said.

The Iraqi national advisor Mowaffaq al-Rubaie told the ceremony "in a few days we shall see a transfer of security in three other provinces in northern Kurdistan."

At the ceremony, the Iraqi security forces paraded around a soccer field of the stadium with their armored personnel carriers and Humvees.

Najaf, 160 km south of Baghdad, was the scene of fierce clashes in 2004 between U.S. troops and militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Earlier this year, British troops handed over control of southern Muthana province in July, and the Italian military transferred Dhi Qar province to Iraqis in September.

Source: Xinhua

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