By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2006 – The Iraqi army is halfway to its goal of 10 divisions as the 4th Division assumed command of the area north of Baghdad yesterday. The division assumed primary control of its area of responsibility from the 101st Airborne Division. This is the fifth of 10 division headquarters in Iraq to assume the lead in regional operations.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman called the development a key benchmark in the effort Iraqis are making to take control of their own country. The division will be in the lead for security in Salah Ad Din, Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk provinces. This area includes the cities of Tikrit, Kirkuk and Samarra and Iraq's northern oil fields.
Overall, Iraqi security forces are in the lead with five army divisions, 25 army brigades and 85 army battalions, Whitman said. The Iraqi national police have two battalions in the lead in other areas. In northern Iraq, 33 battalions, nine brigades and two divisions have demonstrated their ability to operate independently and now lead the fight against terrorists and anti-Iraqi forces. The 5th Iraqi Army Division assumed the lead in Diyala province in July.
The assumption of authority ceremony was held at Camp Dagger, outside Tikrit. Iraqi Lt. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Abdel-Rahman al-Mufti, commander of the 4th Army Division, and U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Turner, commander of Task Force Band of Brothers, presided. Dignitaries attending the ceremony included Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, Defense Minster Gen. Abdul Qadir Muhammed Jasim, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, Multinational Force Iraq Commander Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the governors of Salah Ad Din, Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk provinces, and many provincial and local leaders.
"I think this is a good day for Iraq," Khalilzad said. "The people of Iraq are starting to get organized so they can take on more responsibility for their own country." Casey agreed. "I think what you saw here today was a great statement in progress and unity in Iraq," he said. "They (Iraqis) keep taking small steps and getting better and better every day."
The 4th Division will continue to report through the coalition command structure until the Iraqi Ground Forces Command is fully set up at Camp Victory, outside Baghdad, Multinational Corps Iraq officials said. "The IGFC begins standing up in September with its formal alignment under the Joint Headquarters and will then conduct a phased assumption of overwatch for Iraqi army divisions," said Army Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, a Multinational Corps Iraq spokeswoman.
American advisers will continue to work with the 4th Division as it moves forward. Servicemembers assigned to military training teams are embedded with the Iraqi units. Thirteen such teams are with the 4th Division. Roughly 150 U.S. personnel are assigned to the teams, and U.S. units will continue to partner with Iraqi units as they gain more capabilities.
Servicemembers of Task Force Band of Brothers, which is built around the 101st Airborne Division, "will continue to train and operate with the Iraqi army as they now take the lead for security operations," Martin-Hing said.