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Iraq PM: Coalition to Hand Over Security in Southern Province Next Month


Iraq's prime minister says Iraqi forces will take over security in the southern province of Muthanna next month.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told reporters Monday, his government has a plan to transfer security from British, Australian and Japanese troops to local forces.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed a handover would take place, but did not say when.

Iraqi and British officials recently said a handover was likely in July. It would be the first of Iraq's 15 provinces to be under full Iraqi control.

British Defense Secretary Des Browne said Monday, a new security plan is also being developed for the southern city of Basra to prepare for the eventual handover of security to Iraqi forces.

West of the capital Monday, U.S. military aircraft flew over the volatile city of Ramadi as U.S. and Iraqi forces expanded efforts to isolate insurgents.

Military officials say they are setting up checkpoints to prevent insurgents from getting supplies and reinforcements.

Separately, the military says it is continuing the search for two American soldiers missing since Friday after their team came under attack just south of Baghdad.

The military said the soldiers are still listed as "whereabouts unknown" despite some media reports they were captured alive by insurgents.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.