Iraqi Army takes over in
Salah Eddin province

Thursday, April 6, 2006

BAGHDAD The United States has relayed responsibility to an Iraq Army brigade for operations in the Salah Eddin province. The province contains vital industries as well as strongholds of Al Qaida and the former Saddam Hussein regime.

On April 1, the 1st Brigade, 4th Iraq Army Division began the first phase of assuming responsibility for security operations in Salah Eddin. The Iraqi brigade has been partnered with the U.S. Army's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Middle East Newsline reported.

"Yesterday, coalition Forces were responsible for conducting all the operations in partnership with the Iraqi forces," U.S. Army Maj. Robert Bertrand, 3rd BCT military transition team leader, said. "Today, the Iraqi forces are in the lead."

Officials said the Iraqi military and police contain 244,000 members. They said nearly 130 army battalions have been trained.

In November 2005, Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, more Iraqi units than coalition forces participated in company-sized operations. Pace said that trend has continued.

"Today, 83 percent of all operations are led solely by Iraqis or Iraqis and coalition forces, with the other 17 percent being coalition-only [operations]," Pace said on April 4 in Washington.

Salah Eddin contains Tikrit, regarded as the leading stronghold of the Saddam insurgency. Another city in the province is Samara, an Al Qaida stronghold and long resistant to the post-Saddam government.

Officials said that over the last six months Iraqi and coalition forces have helped quell violence in the Tikrit area. They said the Iraqi brigade has already assumed responsibility for Samara and Tikrit as well as other Sunni areas.

The Iraqi brigade has been training for the mission to take over Salah Eddin since December 2005. Officials said two of the brigade's five battalions have been assigned their own battle space.

The remaining three Iraqi battalions were scheduled to assume security responsibility for the towns of Balad and Bayiji in the summer of 2006. Officials said the Iraqi brigade would direct battalions as well as gather intelligence, plan and execute missions.

"They are planning the operations," Bertrand said. "They are gathering the intelligence that is driving the maneuvers. They are going out and seeking and attacking the insurgency."

The U.S. Army's 3rd BCT intends to continue support for the Iraqi security forces in Salah Eddin. Officials said the United States would contribute helicopters, weapons and personnel for major missions.

Over the next few months, officials said, the United States would hand over several forward operating bases in Salah Eddin to the Iraqi military. They said the bases would be used for training and the launch of missions.

Copyright 2006 East West Services, Inc.

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