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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Gen: Iraq To Assume Command-and-Control Of Its Ground Forces This Year

The Iraqi government will have command-and-control of all of its ground forces by the end of 2007, a senior U.S. military officer based in Baghdad preidcts.

The year 2007 “is truly the year of transition and adaptation” for Iraq, Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, told reporters at a news conference in Baghdad, according to a Armed Forces News Service item.

All Iraqi army divisions will be under Iraqi Ground Forces Command by summer, Caldwell says.
And, all Iraqi provinces, he says, revert to Iraqi provincial control by the fall.

“So that by the end of the year 2007, a significant year of transition, the multinational force and the U.S. mission here in Iraq will be truly in support of the efforts of the government of Iraq and not commanding and controlling those things, but working as a support mechanism,” Caldwell says.

President Bush and his advisors are crafting a new U.S. strategy for Iraq. The president is expected to announce the new plan sometime before his State of the Union address, slated for Jan. 23, the news item notes.

Bush has received advise from various experts on the future of U.S. involvement in Iraq, including the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Headed by former GOP secretary of state James Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, the study group has evaluated US involvement in Iraq and delivered a report on its findings to the White House and Congress.

The U.S. military invaded Iraq nearly four years ago on the assumption the nation was developing weapons of mass destruction. No WMDs were ever found. U.S. forces captured deposed strongman Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein was recently hanged in Iraq for crimes against humanity.

The course of the Iraq war has driven up the unpopularity of President Bush and was a cause in the recent turnover of Congress to Democratic control.

The Feb. 22 terrorist bombing of the Golden Mosque religious shrine in Samarra triggered a surge of Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence across Iraq in 2006, a development that has led to the formulation of a new U.S. strategy for Iraq, Caldwell says.

Caldwell says, despite the violence, the Iraqis have made considerable advances in the past year.

“Iraqis achieved many accomplishments in 2006 that serve as the foundation for future progress,” Caldwell says.

Over the course of the past year Iraq seated its first democratically-elected permanent government, he says, and the nation also produced a national unity government that represents Iraqis of all religious sects and tribes.

“Iraqis have stepped up and begun taking responsibility for their own security,” Caldwell says, noting that responsibility for security in Muthanna, Dhi Qar and Najaf provinces has been transferred to Iraqi provincial control.

“The Iraqi army and police now have overall responsibility for all law enforcement and security activities in those provinces [and] answer to their respective provincial governors and councils,” he says.

Just one of Iraq’s 10 army divisions was responsible for operations within its own territory at the beginning of last year, the Pentagon says. Today, 80 percent of Iraq’s army divisions are responsible for their own battle space, Caldwell says.

Iraq continues to be plagued by high levels of unacceptable violence, Caldwell says, noting it has cost the lives of thousands of innocent Iraqis and more than 800 U.S. servicemen and women over the past year.

“The loss of every single one of these brave Americans is a terrible tragedy for a family somewhere,” Caldwell says. “Even as we continue to work to secure Iraq and build a better future for the people of this region, we extend our deepest condolences for their loss and for our eternal gratitude to these families for the sacrifice of their loved ones.”

The Iraqis and their coalition partners face significant challenges in 2007, Caldwell says. The Iraqis must increase the capabilities and efficiency in their army and police units, he says, while their government must continue to work to reconcile and unify different segments of the population.

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