NYT reports what is likely the beginning of a major trend:
An American commander is preparing to pull troops back from Ramadi, a city at the center of guerrilla activity, and turn it over to Iraqi officers, an experiment that could change the course of the occupation of Iraq.
The commander, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., of the 82nd Airborne Division, said in an interview last week that troops stationed in Ramadi might be ready to withdraw as early as January. About 18,000 Americans are stationed in Anbar Province, with several thousand of those in Ramadi, military officials said.
The plan, if it works, would represent a significant shift in American efforts to pacify areas dominated by Sunni Arabs, who benefited the most from the reign of Saddam Hussein. The plan seems to dovetail with Washington’s recent push to accelerate the transfer of political responsibilities to the Iraqis.
General Swannack said his troops would “stand back” outside the town, ready to help the Iraqi police when needed, but otherwise leaving policing duties to them. To help prepare the Iraqis, he said, the G.I.’s have begun joint patrols with them.
Ramadi, the provincial capital, with about 250,000 residents, has been a center of armed resistance against the American occupation. About 80 miles west of Baghdad, it is in the heart of the area north and west of the capital known as the Sunni Triangle, which is generating most of the attacks against Americans.
“By January or February, we will start backing away and letting them do it,” General Swannack said of the Iraqi police. “We will become the backup and the checkers if they aren’t doing something right,” he added in the interview, at his headquarters in Ramadi.
This is huge, in that it will begin to put an Arab face on the security of Iraq and thus almost certainly quell one significant faction in the insurgency, those who resent the perceived foreign occupation of their country.
Note: I’ve linked to the RSS feed of the NYT story rather than the regular one from the online edition. Let’s see if it disappears.