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U.S. To Delay Transfer Of Iraq's Anbar Province

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The handover of Anbar Province, a former insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad, has been postponed. A new date for the transfer is likely to be discussed during a meeting between tribal sheikhs and the U.S. military July 12.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Now to Iraq and the Sunni province of Anbar. The U.S. military was supposed to hand over security there to the Iraqis late last month, but that was postponed due to bad weather according to the Americans. But NPR has spoken to Iraqi officials in Anbar who say that a new date has not yet been set and that negotiations are ongoing. And violence continues there. Today, in the city of Fallujah, eight people were killed in twin car bombings.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro recently visited Anbar and found that some people are not so sure the province is ready to be handed over to the Iraqis.

LOURDER GARCIA: Ramadi is the capital of Anbar, and up until the tribal sheikhs here turned against al-Qaida in Iraq, it was one of the most violent places in the country. There were brutal clashes between Sunni insurgents and American Marines for years. The devastation that week is still visible.

I'm now driving around Ramadi and all around me is the evidence of the many battles here. The houses have bullet holes and mortar round holes, and some of them are just simply rubble - the result of repeated car bombs.

Many parts of Ramadi still seem eerily quiet, but security is much better, and the U.S. has been touting the turnaround in Anbar. The U.S. military said the planned security handover ceremony was postponed because of a sandstorm. But in a written statement to NPR, the governor of Anbar province, Maamoun Sami Rashid, said that the handover had been further postponed due to ongoing negotiations regarding some of the language in the written agreement both sides must sign.

And there are other complications. The provincial council is trying to fire the province's police chief. That battle is part of a wider power struggle between rival Sunni groups ahead of the upcoming provincial elections. Tribal members of the Awakening movement, with whom the police chief is allied, are trying to rest power from the Iraqi Islamic party, which controls the council.

Still, both sides agree on one issue, the security handover should be postponed. Yahiya Taufik Abu Khader(ph) is a member of the security committee in the Anbar Provincial Council.

YAHYA TAUFIK ABU KHADER: (Through translator) The Iraqi security forces here all have tribal alliances. If the Americans hand over control to them, they will be allied to their own sheikhs and it will be against the unity of Anbar.

GARCIA: Sheikh Abdul-Jabbar Abu Risha is one of the leaders of the Awakening movement in Anbar. The Al Bu Risha tribe's alliance with the Americans has brought them power and prestige and money through contracts. He has a different reason for not wanting to see the American handover.

ABDUL: (Through translator) Our security forces, in terms of equipment and supplies, are not in good shape. We need heavy weapons. The troops are not ready. I prefer to postpone the security handover.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA: Some Ramadi citizens disagree. For them, the fighting has left a deep well of resentment. Hundreds died in Ramadi's battles. Salam Mahdi Saleh(ph) is a music shop owner. He says the handover should happen if it will speed the Americans on their way.

SALAM MAHDI SALEH: (Through translator) The security situation is very good especially because of the Awakening groups and the Iraqi security forces. Because of them, we have just started feeling secure.

GARCIA: He recalls that two of his nephews were killed in crossfire between insurgents and U.S. forces. He blames the Americans and he says the sooner they go the better.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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