Iraqi Army Begins Relieving U.S. Troops
In a small but potentially momentous shift, the U.S. military has handed control of some of Baghdad’s most violent neighborhoods to the Iraqi army, a first step toward taking U.S. soldiers off the streets. The transfer has taken place gradually over the weeks since the Iraqi election and is now complete, leaving about 4,000 Iraqi soldiers with full authority over 10 Baghdad neighborhoods, U.S. and Iraqi officials say. They include notorious hot spots such as insurgent-infested Haifa Street, which has long been a no-go area for ordinary Iraqis, and the hard-line Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, another insurgent stronghold. “This means we do not have to be in place in those areas,” said Lt. Col. Clifford Kent, spokesman for the 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad. “They are some tough areas, but the [Iraqi] brigade is well-trained and they’re mission-capable.”
U.S. advisers are embedded with the Iraqi units, and U.S. forces are on call to help out should they be needed, but the four battalions of the 40th Brigade that have been granted autonomy have full control over their operations, Iraqi and U.S. officials say. “These operations now are being planned and conducted 100 percent by the Iraqi forces,” said Gen. Mudhir Mawla, the commander of Iraqi forces in Baghdad.
Officials had intended for Iraqi security forces to begin taking over from the Americans this year. The transfer was accelerated after the success of January’s election, when U.S. soldiers deliberately hung back and left the job of securing polling sites to the Iraqis in order to avoid any impression of interference in the political process. It is widely acknowledged that the Iraqi security forces performed well above expectations, encouraging U.S. commanders to press ahead with the transfer of authority.