By Gerry J. Gilmore
Dec. 1, 2006 – Iraqi officers will soon command all four Iraqi army divisions operating in northern Iraq, a senior U.S. officer said today. "By February, all four Iraqi divisions in Multinational Division North will be under Iraqi ground-force command," U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon told Pentagon reporters during a satellite briefing.
Mixon is the commander of Multinational Division North as well as commander of the 25th Infantry Division. The two-star general's area of responsibility covers six Iraqi provinces in northern Iraq that include the cities of Kirkuk, Balad, Tikrit, Mosul and Samarra.
The general said his organization's primary focus is to train and partner with Iraqi soldiers and police to provide security for the 11 million Iraqi people residing within his area. That population, he said, includes an ethnic mix of Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Turkmen and Assyrians.
"We have one mission: that is security for Iraq's people," Mixon said.
As Iraqi security forces become more capable, U.S. and coalition forces will take a more indirect security role, while focusing on putting al Qaeda in Iraq out of business, Mixon said.
"We have a goal for this transition, and we are making advances every day," he said. One Iraqi army division in the area was already under Iraqi government control, while a second division was transferred to the government today.
"A third division will transfer by the end of January, and by February, all four Iraqi divisions in Multinational Division North will be under Iraqi ground-force command," Mixon said.
Mixon said thousands of courageous Iraqis have joined their country's security forces or participate in public service to build a strong and unified Iraq.
That effort faces challenges, Mixon said, noting terrorists and criminals are doing their utmost to derail the fledgling Iraqi government.
"In their efforts to expel coalition forces and prevent the establishment of a credible government in Iraq, anti-Iraqi forces continue to fight coalition forces, kill Iraqi police officers and soldiers, along with innocent Iraqi civilians, to include the brutal murders of women and children," Mixon said.
Two of the six provinces within his area of operations are relatively peaceful, Mixon said. However, the other four provinces continue to experience enemy suicide attacks, kidnappings, hijackings and other terrorist violence, including murder.
The enemy also has attacked health clinics, oil pipelines and power stations, actions that negatively affect Iraqis' quality of life, Mixon said.
Diyala province is the most volatile region within his area, Mixon said, noting al Qaeda activities there are centered on inciting sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiites. Tit-for-tat reprisals between the two groups have locked Diyala province into a cycle of violence, Mixon said.
"This set of challenges is varied and broad, and we clearly face a devious and heartless enemy," Mixon said.
Yet, the U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving in northern Iraq "are equally committed to our mission, as well as those majority Iraqi security forces in the day-to-day fight against this enemy," the general said.
He said the campaign to defeat the enemy in northern Iraq "is achieving positive gains," Mixon said, noting his Task Force Lightning troops continue to train up Iraqi security forces, as well confronting al Qaeda terrorists and criminals in the region.
"Our aim is to stand up professional Iraqi security forces that defend and respect the rights of all Iraqi people, regardless of their sect," Mixon said.
Additionally, U.S. and coalition mentors embedded in Iraqi security units, are providing valuable coaching that's helping Iraqi soldiers and police to become more effective and capable. "These efforts have yielded great progress," Mixon said.
In May, 20 of the 40 Iraqi army battalions operating in Multinational Division North were conducting anti-terrorist operations with minimal support from coalition forces. "Today," the general said, "that number is 35 battalions."
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