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Coalition returns province to Iraqi control

  • Story Highlights
  • U.S. receives Iraq's proposed changes to status-of-forces agreement
  • Roadside bomb attacks in Baghdad kill 7, wound 23
  • Coalition hands over Wasit province, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad
  • Ambassador, commander call transfer 'an important milestone'
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Coalition troops formally handed over control of Iraq's Wasit province to the Iraqi government Wednesday.

Girls wave at Iraqi soldiers during a parade in Kut to mark the transfer of Wasit province to Iraqi control.

Girls wave at Iraqi soldiers during a parade in Kut to mark the transfer of Wasit province to Iraqi control.

Wasit, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, is the 13th of Iraq's 18 provinces to revert to local security control.

On Thursday, Iraqis assumed control of Babil province. And last month, coalition troops handed over Anbar province to the Iraqis.

The transfers come amid a big drop in violence in Iraq and calls from Iraqis for the United States to come up with a troop withdrawal timetable. Video Watch the Wasit hand-over ceremony »

"The Embassy of the United States and Multi-National Force-Iraq congratulate the government of Iraq on the transfer of security in Wasit province," U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker and Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, said in a joint statement.

The two men called the transfer "an important milestone."

The other provinces that have shifted to Iraqi security control are Duhuk, Irbil and Sulaimaniya in the Kurdish region, and Karbala, Najaf, Qadisiya, Muthanna, Thiqar, Basra, and Maysan in the Shiite south.

Baghdad, Diyala, Salaheddin, Nineveh and Kirkuk provinces remain under U.S. control.

In Baghdad on Wednesday, U.S. negotiators received Iraq's proposed amendments to a draft security agreement. U.S. officials in Washington said the amendments are being reviewed.

Neither U.S. nor Iraqi officials have elaborated on the proposed changes.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Tuesday that the proposed amendments would have to pass "a very high bar" for the United States to consider changing the draft status-of-forces agreement, which she described as the "best offer."

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the proposed amendments are "necessary, essential and appropriate" to the agreement, which would set the terms for U.S. troops in Iraq after the U.N. mandate on their presence expires at the end of this year.

The draft status-of-forces agreement, according to a copy obtained by CNN, calls for U.S. combat troops to be out of Iraqi cities and villages by July 30, 2009, and out of the country entirely by December 31, 2011.

The agreement allows for an earlier withdrawal or an extension of the U.S. forces' stay in Iraq by agreement of both parties.

It also allows the Iraqi government to ask "the United States government to leave certain forces for training and for support purposes for the Iraqi forces."

Despite the perceived progress on security, a roadside bomb exploded Wednesday night near an Iraqi police patrol in a busy square in eastern Baghdad, killing five civilians, an Interior Ministry official said.

Seventeen people, including five police officers, were wounded in the bombing in al-Mustansiriya Square around 7:45 p.m., the official said.

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Earlier Wednesday, a roadside bomb struck a minibus in northeastern Baghdad, killing two people and wounding six others, the Interior Ministry said.

The vehicle, carrying employees of the Education Ministry, was struck in Ur Square about 9 a.m., an Interior Ministry official said.

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