US hands control of Karbala over to Iraqis

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The Independent Online

Iraq was handed control of security in the mainly Shiite province of Karbala today, the eighth of the nation's 18 provinces to come out of military rule.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said: "This is the proof of the strong will and resolve of the good citizens of this nation.

"The reconstruction of Iraq does not hinge on security alone, but security is the key to everything, he said at the handover ceremony in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad.

Meanwhile a suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up in a crowd of police recruits north-east of Baghdad, killing at least 27 people.

The recruits in Baqouba were waiting to be allowed inside the camp for the day's training.

The attack bore the hallmarks of al Qaida which has repeatedly targeted police and army recruits to discourage Iraqis from joining the security forces.

Yesterday 10 anti-al Qaida tribal sheiks were kidnapped in the predominantly Shiite district of Shaab in Baghdad while driving back home after a meeting with the government in the capital.

Police found the bullet-riddled body of one of the Sunni sheiks, Mishaan Hilan, about 50 yards away from where the ambush took place.

The US said today that a rogue Shiite militia leader was responsible, Arkan Hasnawi, a former brigade commander in the Mahdi Army militia.

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in August ordered his Mahdi Army fighters to obey cease fire for up to six months, but thousands dissatisfied with being taken out of the fight have broken off to form their own groups, equipped by Iran.