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Iraqi Premier Eyes Security Handover This Year --> Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (file photo) (epa) May 22, 2006 -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamil al-Maliki said today that local forces should take over security responsibility from foreign troops for most of the country by the end of the year.

Speaking at a joint press conference in Baghdad with his British counterpart Tony Blair, al-Maliki said an agreement exists under which U.S.-led troops will hand over security responsibility in the two southern provinces of Al-Samawah and Al-Amarah starting next month.

He said most of the provinces should be under the control of Iraqi security forces by the end of this year, with the exception of Baghdad and possibly Anbar.

Blair admitted that Iraq's reconstruction since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 has been "longer and harder" than anyone had expected. But the British prime minister said that "the important thing is that for the first time we have a government of national unity that crosses all boundaries and divides, that is there for a four-year term, and that [is] directly elected by the votes of millions of ordinary Iraqi people."

Iraq's new government was sworn in on May 20, five months after parliamentary elections.

(AFP, Reuters)

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