WASHINGTON– Coalition forces have turned over primary security responsibility for Iraq’s Babil province to the Iraqis today, another sign of improvements being made in Iraq, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said at a news conference here.

“[President Bush] is appreciative of all the work that our forces have done, but also recognizes that the Iraqis have done a lot of work too to get to this point,” Perino said.

Babil, south of Baghdad, became the 12th of Iraq’s 18 provinces to take the lead for its own security operations, she said.

“[Coaltion forces and the Iraqi government] are working together to provide the security needed for the stability and prosperity Iraqis need to move forward in their lives,” Navy Cmdr. Abram McGull, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, said today.

Multinational Division Center, for which the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division provides the headquarters, maintains about 3,800 combat and support troops throughout Babil, providing a secondary role in security efforts there. If Iraqi forces need help, local authorities can request coalition assistance through the provincial governor, McGull explained.

“As in any place in the world, you will still have isolated, condemnable incidences of senseless violence, no matter the stability of the area,” McGull said. “As we have always said, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups here have been dealt a serious blow by Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi people and coalition forces, but they are still a dangerous element.”

A provincial reconstruction team made up largely of State Department personnel operates in Babil and will also continue their work with the Iraqis. They’ve been helping provincial officials with infrastructure improvements, health care, rule of law, education, and agricultural and economic development, he said.

Coalition forces and the PRT will continue to train and mentor the Iraqi security forces, assist with the protection of the Iraqi people and the country’s borders, and support the Iraqi government through economic development, he said. “This is a very important partnership that works well and has accomplished much for the Iraqi people,” McGull added.

Iraq’s defense ministry recently announced that Wasit province, just east of Babil, will more than likely be the next province to take over primary security responsibilities. The transition may occur as early as November, Pentagon officials said.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki chairs Iraq’s national security council and has the final approval authority for provincial turnovers, McGull said. As was the case with Babil and the other 11 provinces now under Iraqi control, the security council and coalition members will evaluate Wasit’s security state, the readiness and capability of Iraqi forces there, the regional government’s proficiency and the supporting ability of coalition forces.

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