By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 28, 2008 - Iraqi forces in southern Baghdad once needed the help of nearly 10,000 American troops to maintain security, but by next month, the number of coalition troops there will drop to fewer than 1,800, a military official posted in Iraq said today. The "professionalization" of the Iraqi Army is perhaps the greatest achievement of coalition forces in southern Baghdad, Army Col. Dominic Caraccilo, commander of the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, known as the Rakkasans, told Pentagon reporters via teleconference.
The size of the Iraqi force in the area has grown from fewer than 4,000 soldiers to more than 12,000 since July, Caraccilo said. The force currently makes up the 17th Iraqi Army Division, and when Caraccilo and his brigade redeploy in November, they'll leave the bulk of security responsibility to the Iraqis, he said.
The region was once one of the more deadly areas in Iraq, known as the "Triangle of Death," Caraccilo said. The area is bound by Yusufiya, Mahmudiyah and Iskandariyah to the south and "was a nexus of enemy activity," he said.
In the past, the area was the site of brutal attacks against coalition forces, Caraccilo said. Less than a year ago, coalition forces were reporting as many as 70 roadside bombs monthly, but now that number is less than 20. In September, only 15 roadside bombs were reported, and most were found before detonation, he added.
"[The area] was riddled with [bombs] and was considered a 'no-man's land' for both coalition forces and noncombatant Iraqis," he said. "It's important to highlight the atrocities of the 'Triangle of Death' in order to appreciate how far this region has come."
Today, along with the Iraqi forces, two U.S. Army battalions will backfill the Rakkasans to provide resourcing, training and access to artillery and aviation support that is not now organic to the Iraqi Army, the colonel said.
The "Sons of Iraq" citizen security group program has allowed for durable security progress, giving the Iraqi army and police the opportunity to increase their capacity and grow. The program also supplies the community with a permanent security presence and is a successful way to provide jobs. More than 19,000 Iraqis make up the Sons of Iraq in southern Baghdad and Mahmudiyah, he added.
The Rakkassans have been conducting operations under an Iraqi-led structure, providing only necessary assistance, for a little more than a month, and it's proven very successful, he said. During that time, Caraccilo has transitioned 18 of his unit's 23 patrol bases to complete Iraqi control, he added.
"The 17th Iraqi Army Division, along with the neighborhood-based Sons of Iraq, have proven to be quite capable of providing security," he said.
Caraccilo said the 17th Iraqi Army Division is trustworthy and capable, noting their proficiency in gathering intelligence as well as in planning and conducting combat operations. In many ways, Iraqi forces are better suited to fight there than coalition troops because of their ability to relate to the local populace and tribes, he said.
"Iraqi soldiers understand the people, tribal differences and culture better than coalition and U.S. troops ever will," he said.
"The residents have great faith in the abilities of the [Iraqi Army] to secure its population," he said. "[Residents] provide tips, identify weapons caches and make concerted efforts to alert the Iraqi army of potential insurgent activity in the neighborhoods.
"From my vantage point," he continued, "it looks like the Iraqis [are] in the lead on a host of issues with strong support for coalition partners. To that end, we have developed a provisional military structure within our area that transfers primacy of security operations from the coalition to the Iraqis."