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U.S. delays Anbar security handoff

Times Staff Writer

The U.S. military on Friday postponed a weekend ceremony to hand over responsibility for security in Anbar province to the Iraqi government, citing forecasts of bad weather.

Lt. Col. Chris Hughes, a military spokesman, said the decision was not connected to a suicide bombing Thursday at a community meeting in the Anbar town of Karmah that killed 25 people, including three U.S. Marines and two interpreters.

High winds and dust storms were expected today. Hughes said the conditions would prevent U.S. and Iraqi officials from flying to the event.

The military provided no new date for the transfer but said it would take place soon.

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Anbar, the vast province west of Baghdad that stretches to the borders of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, was long the center of the Sunni Arab-driven insurgency against U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies. But the number of attacks has plummeted since late 2006, when local tribal leaders rebelled against the militant groups among them, including Al Qaeda in Iraq.

The collaboration between U.S. forces and tribesmen became the model for the so-called Sons of Iraq program, which is credited with reducing violence in other Sunni-dominated parts of the country. The U.S. program pays men about $10 a day to help protect their neighborhoods.

Anbar would be the 10th of Iraq’s 18 provinces to return to Iraqi control and the first one that is predominantly Sunni Arab. The others are mostly Shiite Muslim or dominated by ethnic Kurds.

Thursday’s attack led some local officials to question whether the transfer of security responsibility was premature. Some contended that the provincial police force should first be cleansed of insurgent collaborators.

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The bomber, who blew himself up at a meeting of tribal sheiks and government officials, wore a police uniform.

U.S. officers said the attack appeared to be the work of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni militant group that dominated the province at the time of the tribal uprising. A member of the cell believed to be responsible for the bombing was captured Friday, the military said.

In another development, police said Friday that a senior judge was killed Thursday in a drive-by shooting in east Baghdad. Judge Kamil Shewaili, the head of one of Baghdad’s two appeals courts, was driving home when he was attacked.

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alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

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A special correspondent in Baghdad contributed to this report.


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