By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
March 9, 2007 – Three of the four Iraqi army divisions in the north are now under the control of the Iraqi Ground Forces Command, and U.S. troops are turning over more counterinsurgency operations to those units, the top U.S. commander in the region said today. This will allow U.S. forces to refocus its combat operations and to continue working with local governments on economic issues, said Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of Multinational Division North.
U.S. troops are now serving more in an "advise-and-assist role," Mixon said. U.S. combat operations are more focused on specific targets, such as individuals and groups who finance, make and use improvised explosive devices.
Mixon reported that Iraqi units in the region are manned at about 85 percent. They do, however, have significant equipment shortages, he said.
The final division should fall in under Iraqi command and control by this summer. To help train the Iraqi troops, Mixon has added nearly 400 U.S. soldiers to his military transition teams. To help train the Iraq police, 33 transition teams were added.
Work is still needed, however, with the border security forces and with the strategic infrastructure battalions, those that secure critical oil refining and delivery infrastructure.
Mixon put dedicated training teams with the strategic infrastructure battalions but had to "weed out some of the bad eggs" in those battalions who were working with insurgents or stealing oil.
"They still need to make improvements in their overall manning, their equipping and their general professionalism, and we continue to work that each day," Mixon said.
Mixon noted that the oil refining and delivery infrastructure was in poor condition before the war, so considerable investment is needed to fix those problems.
The general said he is encouraged by progress made in the northern provinces of Nineveh, Kirkuk and Salahuddin, but that sectarian violence still plagues Diyala province. He has moved more forces into Diyala province and increased offensive operations to throw the insurgents "off balance" and prevent them from reinforcing operations in Baghdad, he said. In the past two months, coalition forces have seen a 30 percent increase in offensive actions and attacks and have killed more than 175 enemy forces in Diyala, Mixon said.
"We see the Sunni insurgency trying to desperately gain control of Diyala, because it helps in their effort to control Baghdad and to prevent the government of Iraq from succeeding," Mixon said. "Over time, I am confident that the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police will overcome these security threats in cities like Baqubah, Balad Ruz and Muqdadiyah, and throughout Diyala province."
Four provincial reconstruction teams continue to work with the government officials at the local level focusing on fiscal responsibility, management and finance. Mixon said Kirkuk officials hosted an investment law training class, and the PRT will soon offer a workshop on foreign investment. The PRT also is helping the Kirkuk government set up an investment conference in late March.
In addition, officials expect the Iraqi government to soon release about $37 million in reconstruction funds to Tal Afar. Funds are expected for rebuilding in Samarra, as well, Mixon said.
All totaled, the region has 518 projects worth more than $800 million in the works. About $75 million in Commander's Emergency Response Program funds will be spent in the region this year.
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