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Britain Hands Control of Basra to Iraqi Forces


Iraq: Britain has transferred security responsibilities for Iraq's southern province of Basra to Iraqi forces, marking a major step in the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq.
The commander of British forces in Basra, Major General Graham Binns, and Basra Governor Mohammed Mosbah al-Waeli signed documents at a transfer ceremony today (Sunday) to formally give Iraq control of the province.
Basra is the last of four provinces to be transferred by the British military to Iraqi control. It is also the ninth of Iraq's 18 provinces to be handed back to Iraqi forces by coalition troops -- four-and-a-half years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.
A week ago, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited southern Iraq and confirmed that Basra province would soon be turned over to Iraqi control.
Britain plans to reduce its current force of 45-hundred troops in Iraq by half by mid-2008.

Turkey – Kurds – Iraq: Turkey's military says its warplanes have attacked Kurdish rebel targets inside northern Iraq.
The military says the airstrike targeted bases of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in regions close to the Turkish border and in the Qandil mountains. The statement said such operations will continue "according to military needs."
Officials in Iraq say one woman was killed and two others wounded in Turkish airstrikes on 10 Kurdish villages early today (Sunday).
Turkey has launched several cross-border military operations in recent months against PKK rebels. Ankara accuses the rebels of using bases in northern Iraq to carry out deadly attacks in southeastern Turkey.

Afghan Violence: Afghanistan's Defense Ministry says its troops have killed four Taliban near Musa Qala, in the first fighting since the militants were ousted from the southern town.
In a statement today (Sunday) the ministry said Afghan national forces engaged with the enemy as they moved to expand the area under government control.
Afghan and NATO forces regained control of the area last week, in a battle that left hundreds of Taliban insurgents killed, wounded or detained.
Hundreds of troops continued to patrol the streets on Saturday.
British military officials also said Saturday two rockets were fired into Musa Qala from the outskirts where some Taliban had escaped. No injuries were reported.
The Taliban had seized Musa Qala, in Helmand province about eight months ago.

Pakistan – Suspect: Pakistani authorities are hunting for a British man suspected of plotting to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners, after he escaped from police custody in Islamabad.
Pakistan's Interior Ministry spokesman (Javed Iqbal Cheema) today (Sunday) said police are doing their best to find and re-arrest Rashid Rauf. He added the government has set up a team to investigate how the terror suspect was able to flee.
Rauf escaped Saturday after appearing before a judge for an extradition hearing in Islamabad. Police say he was able to break from his handcuffs and run away. Rauf's lawyer (Hasmat Habib) called his escape a "mysterious disappearance."
Rauf, a British national of Pakistani descent, was arrested in Pakistan in August 2006. Authorities in the West say he had a key role in a terrorist plot to blow up passenger airliners traveling between Britain and the United States, using liquid explosives.

Pakistan: Pakistan's opposition politicians are criticizing the changes President Pervez Musharraf made to the constitution before he lifted emergency rule on Saturday.
Mr. Musharraf's amendments protect his status as president, legalize the forced retirement of judges who refused to accept emergency rule, and stipulate that measures imposed during emergency rule can not be challenged in court.
Officials with the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) today (Sunday) said the president's constitutional changes were equivalent to a man committing a crime and then exonerating himself.
President Musharraf ended emergency rule on Saturday, saying the controversial measure he imposed November third was a last resort to save Pakistan from destabilization.
The Pakistani leader also pledged that parliamentary elections on January eighth will be fair and transparent. Opposition politicians say Mr. Musharraf's moves have already rigged the elections in favor of his supporters.

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