U.S. forces in Iraq have begun to withdraw from some of their positions around the town of Fallujah and hand those positions over to a new Iraqi security force. However, U.S. officials caution that the move is not a retreat but an attempt to give Iraqis more security responsibilities.
U.S. officials say a new force has been created to begin taking over security responsibilities around Fallujah.
The 1,100 man unit, dubbed the Fallujah Brigade, is an all-volunteer force headed by a former major general of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard.
U.S. military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said the U.S. Marines around Fallujah are not pulling out.
?We are certainly not withdrawing from Fallujah," General Kimmitt noted. "Nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the Marine forces are repositioning around Fallujah. Some of the positions they are currently holding are being turned over to the First Battalion of this organization (Fallujah Brigade) in a very methodical, military manner, but that's only in certain portions of the cordon.?
General John Abizaid, overall commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, denied that there is any agreement with the embattled insurgents for a U.S. pullout from the city. He described it is an opportunity to hand Iraqis a measure of responsibility for their own security, but adds that the U.S. military authorities will maintain ultimate command over the new unit.
?What we have there is an opportunity and not necessarily an agreement. The opportunity is to build an Iraqi security force from former elements of the (Iraqi) army that will work under the command of coalition forces, that will be mentored and worked next to by coalition forces,? he said.
In Washington, President Bush denounced the reported abuse of Iraqi prisoners by some U.S. soldiers. He expressed what he called "deep disgust" at the abuse and pledged that those soldiers responsible would be disciplined. In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued his own denunciation of the alleged mistreatment as "savage acts."
Meanwhile, in his sermon at Friday prayers in Kufa, radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr - who has been leading his militia in an insurgency against U.S. forces in the south - kept up his fiery rhetoric, denouncing the United States as an enemy of Islam and rejecting what he termed "appeasement" with the U.S. occupation authority.
Some explosions and gunfire were reported in the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Najaf.
In other developments, General Kimmitt said insurgents on Thursday killed an Iraqi police colonel and tortured and hanged a Baghdad municipal offical.