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Iraq Transition

PM: Iraqi troops battle ready in 2007

Saddam Hussein's wanted nephew arrested in Lebanon

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Recruits from Baghdad drill in April at the New Iraqi Army Regional Training Center in Kirkuk.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi troops will be able to handle security in all 18 provinces by the end of 2007 with additional training and equipment, the country's new prime minister said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki offered that forecast during a meeting with Denmark's prime minister, according to a statement from the Iraqi leader's office.

It is the second time in a week that al-Maliki has discussed a timeline for the handover of security responsibilities to Iraqi troops -- a development that President Bush has said would enable U.S. troops to leave.

With more training and better equipment "our security forces will be capable of taking over the security portfolio in all Iraqi provinces within one year and a half," al-Maliki said during the meeting with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Denmark has about 500 troops in Iraq, based in the south.

More than 130,000 U.S. troops and more than 7,000 British troops remain in Iraq to provide security for al-Maliki's fledgling government, the first permanent administration since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

During a joint appearance with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday, al-Maliki said his government could take over security for 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces by the end of this year. The exceptions were Baghdad and the sprawling western province of Anbar, where U.S. troops are battling a stubborn insurgency.

The conflict has become increasingly unpopular in both Britain and the United States, where solid majorities of Americans in published polls say they disapprove of Bush's management of the war.

Blair is scheduled to meet with Bush on Thursday in Washington, and the president said Wednesday that U.S. commanders will be making "a new assessment" of the need for American troops now that the permanent government led by al-Maliki has taken power.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Tuesday that the three remaining Cabinet positions -- Defense, Interior and National Security -- would be filled by al-Maliki within a few days. But he acknowledged "there is a challenge in getting the right ministers" for the sensitive posts.

White House spokesman Tony Snow tried to dampen expectations that Bush and Blair would announce any troop withdrawals, but he said U.S. and allied troops would increasingly take on a supporting role for Iraqi forces.

"I do not believe that you're going to hear the president or the prime minister say we're going to be out in one year, two years, four years," Snow said.

Tortured victims found

Continued violence in Baghdad and elsewhere Wednesday served as a reminder of the ongoing effort to combat an insurgency and sectarian violence.

At least four bodies were found at various sites across Baghdad Wednesday morning, according to Baghdad police. All had been shot in the head and showed signs of torture.

Also, a civilian was killed and three others were wounded when gunmen opened fire on a car in the Iskan neighborhood of northwestern Baghdad on Wednesday morning, police said.

In western Baquba, gunmen opened fire on car Wednesday morning, killing one person and wounding another, Baquba police said. Baquba is about 38 miles (60 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

An insurgent was killed Wednesday when a roadside bomb he was trying to plant near the town of Tuz exploded, an official with the Salaheddin Joint Coordination Center said. Tuz is about 120 miles (190 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

Three alleged "al Qaeda associates" were among seven insurgents killed by coalition forces in operations north and south of Baghdad on Tuesday evening, the U.S. military said in statements released on Wednesday.

Nephew accused of 'many crimes'

A nephew of Saddam Hussein was arrested in Beirut, Lebanon, by Iraqi security services, with the help of Interpol, according to the office of Iraq's prime minister Wednesday. Bashar Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti was one of Iraq's most-wanted men.

The office, when contacted by CNN, would not say when the arrest happened or specify what charges Bashar Sabawi, 35, faces.

Sabawi was wanted "because of the many crimes committed against the innocent Iraqi people during and after the ex-dictatorial regime," a press release said.

"Capturing the criminal Bashar Sabawi represents an important intelligence success for our security services," the press release stated.

"The Iraqi Security Forces will continue to work toward pursuing all loyalists to the previous regime who fled abroad and bringing them to face justice."

Sabawi's father, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti, served as presidential adviser to his half-brother Saddam Hussein, and was No. 36 and the six of diamonds on the U.S. card deck list of the 55 "most wanted" Iraqis.

Syria turned over Sabawi Ibrahim to Iraq in February 2005.

Five months later, the U.S. Treasury Department blocked the assets of Sabawi Ibrahim's six sons -- including Bashar Sabawi -- to "halt the flow of money and resources to anti-coalition forces."

On Monday, Sabawi Ibrahim testified as a witness for Hussein's defense, saying that Hussein had been calm after a 1982 assassination attempt in Dujail. (Hussein laughs in courtroom chaos)

Hussein and seven co-defendants face charges in connection with the detention, torture and killing of nearly 150 Shiites in an ensuing crackdown.

On Wednesday, Tariq Aziz, once the public face of Hussein's former regime, testified on behalf of the ex-dictator and his co-defendants, saying the government acted properly in response to the assassination attempt. (Aziz on the stand)

Other developments

  • A U.S. soldier was killed south of Balad on Tuesday while serving as part of a team conducting operations to detect roadside bombs, the U.S. military said. Insurgents attacked his patrol with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. The death brings to 2,451 the number of U.S. troops who have died in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. During May, 54 American troops have died. Seven American civilians employed by military contractors also have died in the war.
  • The Marine Corps has launched an investigation into an allegation that its troops killed an Iraqi civilian west of Baghdad in April, the service announced Wednesday. Several Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, have been sent back to the United States while the investigation is under way, said a Marine Corps spokesman based at Iraq's Camp Falluja. (Full story)
  • Prosecutors in the court-martial of a former U.S. Army dog handler at Abu Ghraib prison, Sgt. Santos Cardona, are looking for Megan Ambuhl Graner, who pleaded guilty to her role in the prisoner abuse scandal. She recently quit her job and is no longer at the family home, a process server testified Tuesday. And because Graner had not yet been served with a subpoena, a bench warrant for her arrest cannot be issued, according to the judge in the court-martial, Lt. Col. Paul McConnell.
  • CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report

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