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Bulgarians take control of Karbala

U.S. Marines criticized in Karbala last month for violating sacred shrine and killing an Iraqi during demonstration.
U.S. Marines criticized in Karbala last month for violating sacred shrine and killing an Iraqi during demonstration.

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Bulgarian troops take charge of Karbala from U.S. troops. CNN's Ralitsa Vassileva reports
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(CNN) -- Military control over Iraq's second holiest Shiite city, Karbala, has been handed over to a Bulgarian military governor as Washington again reaches out to the so-called new European democracies for help.

U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Matthew Lopez handed over control of Karbala to Bulgarian Lt. Col. Petko Marinov, whose 250-member force will begin patrolling the city, according to reports on Tuesday.

"We welcome you today for the transfer of authority of the city of Karbala between the Marines of 3rd Battalion 7th marines and the Bulgarian battalion," said Lopez.

As well as the 250 Bulgarian soldiers stationed in Karbala, which is 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, Marinov will be in charge of Polish troops and U.S. marines serving in Karbala.

"One of our challenges will be to continue cooperation with the marines and cooperation with the local authorities which have been established to this point," said Marinov.

The small Balkan country, grateful for U.S. support for its bid to join NATO, backed the U.S.- led war in Iraq and is now providing a total of 500 troops for Washington's post-war stabilization force.

Bulgaria's contingent will be under Polish command after the U.S. makes another transfer of control on 3 September. This will put the entire south central region, including Karbala, under Polish control.

Earlier this week Hungary agreed to let U.S. instructors use a base on its soil to train the new Iraqi police.

But Washington got a clear signal from France and other countries at the U.N. security council last week, that it will need to cede more control if it is to gain broader U.N. support for its peacekeeping efforts in Iraq.

-- CNN correspondent Ralitsa Vassileva contributed to this report.

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