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:
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.
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.