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Polish-led force to oversee part of Iraq
( 2003-09-04 13:53) (Agencies)

The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq handed over the south-central part of the country Wednesday to an international force led by Poland, hailing the transfer as a sign of the global community's commitment to a postwar Iraq.

U.S. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez (R) and Polish Maj. Gen. Andrzej Tyszkiewicz salute during a handover ceremony in Babylon, Iraq, Wednesday, Sept 3, 2003.  [AP]
Meanwhile, efforts at self-governance continued to forge ahead in Baghdad.

The interim Governing Council swore in members of the newly appointed 25-member Cabinet that will take over many of the day-to-day governing duties from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, said earlier that U.S. officials will push the new Iraqi Cabinet to assume those duties sooner than later, adding that they also want to quickly train Iraqis to take over security.

And the Bush administration has begun circulating language for a new U.N. resolution that would get more international troops and aid involved in security and reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bremer's group would still oversee Iraq under the terms of the new resolution.

Polish soldiers attend a handover ceremony in the old amphitheatre in Babylon, Iraq, Sept 3, 2003.  [AP]
Also Wednesday, Iraqi police, with the help of the U.S. military, also raided three farm houses near Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown that's 120 miles north of Baghdad, in search for weapons and opposition suspects.

Capt. Omar Lomas, 31, of McAllen, Texas, said soldiers and Iraqi police seized four AK-47 rifles, ammunition and explosives, but made no arrests.

"The idea is to get the Iraqi police up front and get them to handle the raids," added Lt. Col. David Poirier, commander of the 720th Brigade of U.S. military police in Tikrit.

"We could go in and break in the doors, but this way it's a gentler, kinder approach. We're there making sure that nothing goes wrong."

While military control was ceremoniously passed to the Poles, the handover of the holy city of Najaf was delayed at least two weeks after the car bombing Friday outside the Imam Ali shrine that killed between 85 and 125 people, including leading Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said U.S. Marines were needed in the area for a while longer.

The coalition will review the situation in Najaf about mid-month, Sanchez said, after which it is hoped control of the city will be handed over to a Spanish brigade.

Sanchez said the transfer of authority to the Poles, who are leading a 9,500-strong international force in central Iraq, delivered a message that the U.S.-led force occupying Iraq was a broad-based.

"It's indeed a historic moment. It's a moment where the international community has stepped up and turned a nine-nation coalition into a 30-nation coalition, which sends an unmistakable message," Sanchez told international troops at an amphitheater near Babylon.

Seventeen countries ranging from Latvia to Mongolia are providing troops to the international force for the south-central part of the country. Four other nations are providing logistical support.

Maj. Gen. Andrzej Tyszkiewicz, commander of the international force, stressed that his troops will not be occupiers.

"Even though we have different uniforms and different flags, we are unified by one purpose," Tyszkiewicz said. "That purpose is to help the Iraqi people wipe out the traces of Saddam Hussein's monstrous dictatorship and build a new basis of peaceful existence."

Tensions remain high in Najaf, where the brother of the slain cleric, AbdelAziz al-Hakim, said Tuesday that he blamed U.S. occupation forces for the lax security that led to the attack at Iraq's most sacred Shiite mosque.

A senior Iraqi police official said nine key suspects in the bombing were in custody -- two Saudis, one Palestinian carrying a Jordanian passport and six Iraqis. All nine admitted ties to the Al Qaeda terror network, the official said.

Bremer told a Baghdad news conference Tuesday that he shared the country's "anguish" over recent bombings, adding that "it's a fight we're now going to have to win here -- this fight against terrorism."

The U.S. military reported the deaths of three more American soldiers on Tuesday -- two of them in the bombing of a convoy south of Baghdad, and one when a helicopter made a hard landing and rolled over.

The number of American forces killed in the Iraq war is 286. Of those, 148 died since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major fighting. Seventy soldiers have died in combat since the declaration.

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