BAGHDAD The U.S. military on Friday postponed a weekend ceremony to hand over responsibility for security in al-Anbar province to the Iraqi government, citing forecasts of bad weather.
Lt. Col. Chris Hughes, a military spokesman, said the decision was not connected to a suicide bombing at a community meeting in the al-Anbar town of Karmah on Thursday that killed more than 20 people, including three U.S. Marines and two interpreters.
High winds and dust storms are expected today. Hughes said the conditions would prevent U.S. and Iraqi officials from flying to the event.
The military provided no new date for the official hand-over, but said it would take place soon.
Al-Anbar, the vast province west of Baghdad that stretches to the borders of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, was long the center of the Sunni Arab-driven insurgency against U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies. But the number of attacks has plummeted since local tribal leaders rebelled in late 2006 against the religious extremist militant groups among them, including al-Qaida in Iraq.
The collaboration between U.S. forces and local tribesmen became the model for the Sons of Iraq program, which is credited with driving down violence in other Sunni-dominated parts of the country. The U.S. program pays local gunmen about $10 a day to help protect their neighborhoods.
Al-Anbar would be the 10th of Iraq's 18 provinces to return to Iraqi control and the first one that is predominantly Sunni Arab. The others are mostly Shiite Muslim or dominated by ethnic Kurds.
Thursday's attack led some local Iraqi officials to question whether the hand-over was premature. Some argued that the provincial police force should first be cleansed of insurgent collaborators.
The bomber, who blew himself up at a meeting of tribal sheiks and government officials, was dressed in a police uniform.
U.S. officers said the attack appeared to be the work of al-Qaida in Iraq, the Sunni militant group that dominated the province at the time of the tribal uprising. A member of the cell believed to be responsible for the bombing was captured Friday, the military said.
In other developments, police said a senior Iraqi judge was killed in a drive-by shooting in east Baghdad on Thursday. Judge Kamil Shewaili, the head of one of Baghdad's two appeals courts, was driving home when the attack happened.