By Sgt. Jeff Lowry, USA
WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2006 – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is now officially the commander in chief of his troops. Coalition forces handed over operational control of Iraq's navy, air force and the 8th Iraqi Army Division in a ceremony today at the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad's International Zone. "It's fitting I follow the commander in chief of the Iraqi forces," said U.S. Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, who spoke after Maliki.
"From today forward, the Iraqi military responsibilities will be increasingly conceived and led by the Iraqis," Casey said. Before today's ceremony, Iraqi forces received commands from coalition forces.
More Iraqi army divisions are expected to follow the 8th Division in the coming months. "They had proved, through rigorous operation, that they were ready," coalition spokesman Maj. Shawn Stroud said of the 8th Division. "They were the unit that was fully prepared to do so through training, readiness and experience." The prime minister said today's ceremony was a historic event. "It's a great and happy day in the history of Iraqis," he said.
Coalition spokesman Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV yesterday called the handover a milestone. "It's the one event that puts the prime minister directly in the operational control of his military forces as his role as the commander in chief," Caldwell said. During his speech today, the prime minister issued a warning to the terrorists. "Terrorists, we'll see you have a great punishment, wherever you are," he said. "Now here again we are challenging terrorism. We have to continue to work hard with other security forces."
Maliki said the Iraqi army would rely on high values and move away from sectarian violence. He also painted a picture of what Iraq's military will be like in the future. "We want a very active army that will go ahead in its mission very quickly," he said.
(Army Sgt. Jeff Lowry is assigned to the 124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)