By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, Aug. 28, 2006 – The Iraqi government is slated to assume control of its soldiers, sailors and airmen sometime next month, a senior U.S. military officer told reporters in Baghdad today. The Iraqi Ministry of Defense, through its joint headquarters in Baghdad, will assume operational control of the Iraqi army, as well as the country's air force and navy, in early September, Army Major General William B. Caldwell, spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, said at a news briefing.
"This is a significant step in the Iraqi path to self-reliance and security," Caldwell said. "What this means is that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense is prepared to begin assuming direct operational control over Iraq's armed forces." Iraq's 3-year-old armed forces have "been rebuilt from the ground up as a modern and effective fighting force," Caldwell said. Iraqi army divisions have fought alongside coalition forces under the commander of the Multinational Corps Iraq, he added. Coalition forces also have worked to train the new Iraqi army, which now stands at about 115,000 soldiers.
The transition of control of Iraq's armed forces to the Iraqi government should take several months, Caldwell said. The 10 Iraqi army divisions eventually will come under the direct operational control of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, commander in chief of Iraq's armed forces, Caldwell said.
"The majority of Iraqi (army) divisions will remain under coalition forces initially," Caldwell explained, "and then be gradually transitioned into the Iraqi ground forces command."