BEIJI, Iraq -- The US Army is hastening efforts to hand over command of military posts to Iraqis after parliamentary elections that many hope will produce a more stable government and set the stage for American soldiers to begin going home.
Seventeen of the 109 former Iraqi bases used by coalition troops since the 2003 invasion have been transferred to Iraqi command, while 30 others have been shut down, Army officers say. The Pentagon is pushing for more in the coming months.
''Eventually they're all going to go," said Major John Calahan, executive officer of the 101st Airborne Division's Third Brigade. ''The ultimate plan is that we're going to have less presence in Iraq until finally we're gone."
Defense analysts caution it may not be a fast process. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made similar comments in Iraq last week, even as he said two Army brigades would not deploy to Iraq as planned. Commanders said that would cut US troop strength by 7,000, to about 130,000.
Despite the step-up in efforts to turn more security duties over to Iraqi units, Calahan said concerns linger over the readiness of those troops.
Some Iraqi forces have excelled and fought well alongside Americans, but other units have been hamstrung by weapons shortages and some have had their soldiers caught working with insurgents.
In some places, Iraqi troops have failed to report for duty, gotten caught with bomb-making materials, or allowed insurgents to attack US convoys or other coalition soldiers by looking the other way, Americans say.
That reality has fueled an undercurrent of distrust for Iraqi soldiers.
''A lot of them want to do a good job, but then you have those who only show up for a paycheck," said Sergeant Paul Hare, 40, of Tucumcari, N.M., a Humvee gunner in the 101st Airborne's 33d Cavalry Regiment. ''I don't trust a one of them."
The plan for turning military posts over to Iraqis has been in place for months, but Army officers say the Bush administration has quickened the timeline and made the message clear: Get Iraqi army units in place.
Announced during a speech in November, President Bush's plan envisions moving US and other foreign troops out of cities and having them focus on specialized operations aimed at hitting key terrorist targets.
''We are living that speech," Calahan said.
Iraqi soldiers and police units were responsible for much of the security for the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, which were free of the violence and bombings that US officials had expected.
As part of the handover of control, US military units will work with Iraqi battalions, performing missions together until the Iraqis are able to go it alone. Then the Americans will serve as backup for Iraqi forces and eventually will withdraw completely, officials said.
The posts transferred to Iraqi hands are scattered across the country.
The New York Times reported today that the US military official responsible for Iraqi detainees said the Army had decided to delay their transfer to Iraqi jails until it is confident that they will be properly treated. The comments by Army Major General John D. Gardner followed two recent raids of Iraqi government detention centers that uncovered scores of abused prisoners. They also followed calls by American officials for the Iraqi government to bar militias from dominating the security forces.
In other developments across Iraq yesterday:
The governing Shi'ite coalition called on Iraqis to accept results showing the religious bloc leading in parliamentary elections and moved ahead with efforts to form a ''national unity" government.
Violence in Iraq left at least nine people dead. Gunmen killed eight people around Baghdad, and a US soldier died from wounds sustained in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in northern Iraq. The soldier was assigned to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade and was wounded in an attack while on patrol near the town of Hawijah, the military said.
Militants released a video of a Jordanian hostage and gave that country three days to cut ties with the Baghdad government and free a female would-be suicide bomber whose explosives belt failed to go off during Nov. 9 attacks that killed 60 people in Amman.
Al-Arabiya satellite channel, which broadcast parts of the video, did not specify whether the militants threatened to kill the hostage, Mahmoud Suleiman Saidat, if the deadline was not met. Jordan's government rejected the demands.
Baghdad's tiny Christian community celebrated a somber Christmas Eve in Baghdad, with a few dozen Catholics holding Mass in the early afternoon to avoid traveling after dark -- one of the most dangerous times in the Iraqi capital. An 11 p.m. curfew also bans all traffic.
The United Iraqi Alliance, headed by the cleric Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, said preliminary results showing it with a clear lead in the Dec. 15 elections were not the result of fraud or intimidation. Alliance leaders charged that many violations took place in Sunni Arab areas, and said that many of its opponents conspired with insurgents to alter results.
''There will no going back and no new elections," Jawad al-Maliki, a senior Alliance official, said at a news conference. ''The results must be accepted and the will of the people must be respected."
He added that the Alliance had been expecting to win more seats.
''The opponents have made it clear through their statements and warnings that they stand alongside the terrorists."
He was referring to statements by senior Sunni Arab politicians, including Adnan al-Dulaimi, the head of the main Sunni Arab coalition known as the Iraqi Accordance Front, who openly thanked some insurgent groups for not attacking polling stations, and to reports that masked militants were guarding some of them.