U.S. Turns Over Reins In Fallujah

An empty packet of meal ready to eat or MRE, bears the only sign of the presence of US soldiers in a building adjacent to the mayor's office in Fallujah, Iraq, 071103, after it was vacated by them. The U.S.-appointed mayor of this violence-ridden town said American forces withdrew from his office Friday in a highly symbolic gesture of confidence that local police can keep him safe
AP
U.S troops are handing Iraqi officials responsibility for policing the restive city of Fallujah, where American forces have come under increasing attack from Saddam Hussein loyalists, the military announced Saturday.

Iraqi police and the U.S.-appointed mayor requested the transfer, saying it would help reduce the anti-American attacks in the city, located in the "Sunni Triangle," a swathe of central Iraq where Saddam had strong support.

The U.S.-led coalition announced in a statement that troops began on Friday a "transition of responsibility with the Fallujah Police Department," which had asked for more power "in patrolling and securing the town." The military said Iraqi police will "patrol the streets themselves instead of jointly with military police."

Fallujah's mayor, Taha Bedewi, and the police said Friday that U.S. soldiers had left the mayor's office and the city's main police station, where the Americans had been posted since they seized the city in April.

Police had complained that the presence of U.S. troops could draw attacks and threaten the Iraqis' security.

CBS News reporter Lisa Barron says the Third Infantry Divison will stay in the Fallujah area to help with reconstruciton and humanitarian efforts. it will also have a quick reaction team in place, at the request of the local police.

In other developments:

  • A senior Western diplomat told The Associated Press that Iraq's U.S.-led provisional government is in "the final stages" of setting up a governing council that will be the first national Iraqi political body since the fall of Saddam's regime.

    There have been numerous reports that the council would be named this weekend, and U.S. officials said Iraq's American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, would hold a news conference Saturday where he was expected to announce the makeup of the council. The meeting with reporters, however, was canceled early Saturday and no reason was given. The announcement is now expected to be made Sunday.

    The council is likely to have a Shiite Muslim majority, a fundamental change in a country that has always been led by minority Sunnis. The diplomat also said the makeup of the council would favor internal Iraqi politicians over those who returned from exile. Women are also expected to get a prominent role.

  • A U.S.-appointed city council took office in Baqubah, a city northeast of Baghdad that has been the site of attacks on coalition forces.
  • The military reported Saturday that a soldier of the 4th Infantry Division died and a second was wounded in "a non-hostile gunshot incident." Spokesman Cpl. Todd Pruden said other details about the shooting were not available, and the soldiers names were being withheld until family was notified.
  • Pruden also said U.S. military police securing a prison west of Baghdad came under attack early Saturday, but there were no reports of casualties. Three explosions rocked the area near the prison just after midnight as soldiers from the 400th Military Police Battalion were operating west of the capital, Pruden said. The military would not release the name of the prison, but the area is the site of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad. The soldiers sent a team to investigate the explosions, but there were no reported arrests.
  • U.S. military commanders in Iraq have been warned that the coming week has three holidays linked to the toppled regime that could be occasions for more violence by Saddam loyalists, a Pentagon source said Friday. Monday is the Republic Day holiday, followed by the anniversary of the founding of Saddam's Baath Party on Wednesday, then the anniversary of Saddam's coming to power on Thursday.
  • The Washington Post reports in its Saturday editions that the search for Saddam and dozens of his senior associates and mid-level loyalists has intensified in recent weeks in his home province of Salahuddin, northwest of Baghdad. Spurred by reports from local informants and intercepted telephone conversations, some U.S. officials say they now believe that the fugitive former president and his closest henchmen may be filtering back to the area for the protection afforded by a vast network of tribal and family connections, the Post says.
  • The man who made such statements as, "There are no American infidels in Baghdad" has left Baghdad. Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, Iraq's information minister during the Iraqi war, left Baghdad for Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
  • Former POW Jessica Lynch is expected to return to her West Virginia home by the end of the month. A family spokesman says doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington say Lynch could be released in two weeks. The hospital says she's "looking better" and participating more in her treatments.

    On Thursday, several dozen Iraqi police, most wearing new uniforms provided by the U.S. military, marched on the mayor's office in Fallujah saying they would quit their posts if the American soldiers continued to use their station as a base.

    Fallujah has seen several deadly attacks on American and Iraqi forces since U.S. troops killed 20 protesters in late April. Insurgents fired two rocket-propelled grenades at American troops in the city Wednesday, causing no casualties. And an explosion a week ago at a police graduation ceremony in Ramadi, 28 miles west of Fallujah, killed seven U.S.-trained recruits.

    American troops have come under daily attack in ambushes, shootings and bombings across central Iraq. Since President Bush declared major combat operations had ended on May 1, at least 31 U.S. soldiers have been killed by hostile fire.

    Attacks by pro-Saddam Hussein insurgents in recent weeks have threatened to drag Iraq's American and British occupiers into a military and political quagmire. The U.S. military insists the resistance does not amount to a full-fledged guerrilla war, and say they have no evidence it is being coordinated on a nationwide level.