The U.S. military has transferred control of Iraq's once-violent Babil province to Iraqi forces, making it the 12th of 18 provinces returned to Iraqi control.

During a handover ceremony Thursday, the number two U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin said security gains in the central province, south of Baghdad have been remarkable, with attacks declining 80 percent over the past year.
Iraq's National Security Advisor, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said the handover is proof Iraqi forces in Babil have reached self-sufficiency. The White House press secretary, Dana Perino said the transfer was another example of improving security.

Meanwhile, a top U.S. military commander, Major General John Kelly, told reporters Thursday U.S. troop levels could be cut substantially in western Anbar province, if provincial elections go smoothly. The commander said violence had decreased significantly in the former insurgent-stronghold.

In central Baghdad Thursday, a suicide car bomber struck the convoy of Iraq's labor minister, Mahmoud al-Radhi, killing at least 11 people. The minister was not hurt.

Separately, the U.S. military says coalition forces detained two suspected militants today in central Iraq, west of Baghdad. The military says one of the men is suspected of providing materials and money to regional al-Qaida leaders for bombings against coalition forces.

And the interior ministers of Iraq's neighboring countries have pledged their support for Iraq's stability and security.

Officials from countries that included Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, and Egypt met in the Syrian capital of Amman Thursday and agreed to cooperate in helping Iraq eliminate terrorism. Syria's interior minister, Bassam Abdul Majid, said his country refuses to be a launching pad for threats against Iraq.

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