By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 2, 2007 - Operations in Baqubah, Iraq, are transitioning to the "hold" phase of the "secure, hold, build" strategy, the commander of coalition forces in northern Iraq said today. Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of Multinational Division North, told military analysts that coalition and Iraqi forces are building joint security stations and combat outposts in the city. "We have a number of large operations planed over the next 30 days to address the threat in the city," he said.
Elsewhere in his area of operations, Mixon has recommended that Ninewah province -- the capital of which is Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul -- be transitioned to Iraqi provincial control. "That determination is made by people in the government. But from a security standpoint, there is no reason not to," he said.
Salah ad Din province appears to be the primary area the enemy is moving to, Mixon said. The area most affected is the region between the towns of Samarra and Balad. "We are focused on those areas," he said.
In Kirkuk, the general said, the security situation is improving and the Iraqi police are gaining strength. There have been some car bombs in the city, but the police generally have the situation in hand, he said.
The general also said he is closely watching the southern portion of Kirkuk province where it borders with Diyala, because Diyala province is the epicenter for violence in the region.
Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, was a haven for al Qaeda in Iraq and insurgent groups. Clearing the city of al Qaeda has been tough, but now troops in the city are moving into the hold portion of the strategy in hopes of denying the enemy this base.
Mixon said a significant meeting among sheikhs and tribes in Diyala province is happening today. The meeting culminates six months of work to get sheikhs and tribal leaders to cooperate with the Iraqi government.
The meeting follows a "very productive" visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who promised the province financial aid as it rebuilds, Mixon said.
Mixon said his troops will continue to work to partner with and train Iraqi army forces, but improving police forces in the region will be the primary focus of coalition troops.