ABC NEWS 8/9/2006
Iraq Takes Over Command of Armed Forces
By REBECCA SANTANA
BAGHDAD, Iraq Sep 8, 2006 (AP)— U.S.-led forces turned over control of Iraq's military command to the Shiite-led government Thursday, a key step toward the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops. But the ceremony in the heavily fortified Green Zone only transferred authority for one of Iraq's 10 divisions and its small air force and navy, and it remained unclear how quickly Iraqi forces would be prepared to take over security.
A legislative session nearby, meanwhile, degenerated into a shouting match as Sunni Arabs accused the majority Shiites of seeking to carve Iraq into sectarian enclaves.
Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani interrupted a session after a draft bill submitted by the largest Shiite party led to accusations from Sunni Arabs that they were trying to divide Iraq. A live broadcast from parliament was pulled off the air amid acrimonious debate.
Sunni Arab legislator Saleh al-Mutlaq threatened his people "will not stay in a parliament that leads to the division of Iraq" and threatened to boycott any session that sought to approve such legislation.
The concept of federalism is enshrined in the new Iraqi constitution, and the Kurds in the north already have their own autonomous region. However, special legislation and a referendum would be needed to establish a federation comprised of autonomous regions.
Both the north and mainly Shiite south are rich in oil, and Sunni Arabs could end up squeezed into Baghdad and Iraq's western provinces, which have no resources. Many Sunnis fear that federalism will lead to the breakup of the country.
On Thursday, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a document taking control of Iraq's small naval and air forces and the 8th Iraqi Army Division, based in the south.
The top U.S. general in Iraq, George Casey, promised to "continue to fight with you to protect the Iraqi people wherever they are threatened."
"Today is an important milestone, but we still have a way to go," Casey said during the ceremony.
Handing over control of the country's security to Iraqi forces is vital to any eventual drawdown of U.S. forces here. After disbanding the remaining Iraqi army following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, coalition forces have been training the new Iraqi military.