Iraq, US differ on Babel security handover plans

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HILLA, Iraq, Nov 12 (Reuters) Provincial officials said today that Iraqi forces will take over security for Babel province south of Baghdad next month, but the US military said it was not aware of any plans to transfer control.

''On the 17th or 18th of December the security file for Babel province will be handed over to the Iraqis,'' Babel provincial government spokesman Abdul-Ridha Issa told Reuters.

Babel would become the ninth of Iraq's 18 provinces to be handed over if the plan goes ahead. A police spokesman for the Babel provincial capital Hilla gave the same handover dates.

However, a US military spokesman said the only province expected to be handed over in December was southern Basra.

US-led coalition forces last month handed over security responsibility for Kerbala province just to the west of Babel.

A religiously and ethnically mixed province, Babel takes in the Sunni Arab insurgency stronghold known as the ''triangle of death'' in the north and is more heavily Shi'ite further south.

A Pentagon report to the US Congress in September said current projections showed the handover of security responsibility for all 18 provinces could be done ''as early as July 2008''.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said at a handover ceremony in Kerbala last month that the oil hub of Basra would be transferred from British control in mid-December.

REUTERS PJ RAI2241

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