AMARA, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraq plans to take security control of all its provinces from foreign forces before the end of the year, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a speech read out by a senior official on Wednesday.
Maliki is under growing pressure from powerful anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to set a timetable for the withdrawal of 146,000 U.S. troops from Iraq.
In a speech delivered on his behalf by National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie at a ceremony marking the handover of southern Maysan province from British forces to Iraqi control, Maliki said three provinces in the autonomous Kurdistan region would follow next.
"Maysan ... will be followed by the three Kurdistan provinces, a month from now," Maliki said.
"After that Kerbala and Wasit (provinces). Then it will be province by province until we achieve (this transfer) before the end of the year."
The transfer of Maysan means four of the country's 18 provinces are now under Iraq's security control.
Sadr withdrew six ministers from his political movement from Maliki's government on Monday to press his demand for a timetable for the pullout of American troops.
Maliki has repeatedly said U.S. troops would leave Iraq only when Iraqi forces were ready to take over security.