American Forces Press Service
Iraq, Jan. 6, 2009 - U.S. forces have transferred the Riyadh train station here back to Iraqis in a move local officials say signals a return to normalcy for the area. "The train station transfer went smoothly, and the sounds of trains signal a return to normalcy," Shakir Mahmood, director of transportation for Iraq's Kirkuk province, said at a Jan. 3 transfer ceremony.
The new U.S.-Iraqi security agreement that took effect Jan. 1 and improved security in Riyadh made it possible for coalition forces to transfer the station, known by coalition forces as Patrol Base Howell, back to the Kirkuk Department of Transportation.
The transfer is a major step toward restoring the rail service in Kirkuk province. The remaining task is to complete the final span of the Beiji railroad bridge linking the Kirkuk rail line with the Samarra-to-Beiji line.
"Once the train station is functioning, it will help energize the economy as well as decrease the number of commercial vehicles traveling on the roads," said Riyadh Mayor Mohamad Ahmad Hussein.
Coalition forces also noted the significance of the event.
"I'm honored to be here this morning among you to mark the transfer of the Riyadh train station from coalition forces to the people of Iraq," said Army Lt. Col. Kenneth R. Casey, commander of 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, attached to the 25th Infantry Division's 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
"Today represents one of the many transitions happening across Iraq, with the improved security situation provided by the Iraqi police, Iraqi army, Sons of Iraq and U.S. forces," Casey said. The Sons of Iraq are Iraqi civilians who assist in local security efforts. He noted the transfer plays an important part in coalition efforts to start giving coalition areas of responsibility back to the Iraqis.
"Patrol Base Howell is a great example of what U.S. forces are trying to do, which is to return facilities back to the Iraqis to use for their intended purposes," Casey said.
Patrol Base Howell sheltered coalition forces for more than a year, and many soldiers called it a home.
"It's hard for us to leave, because this has been our home for a while," said Army Capt. Thomas Sturm, commander of D Company, 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment. "It's been great to live so close to the people that we serve here in the town of Riyadh, but it's an important step forward."
Another soldier said progress will continue. "We'll move on and continue to do what we do," Army 1st Sgt. Michael Oliver of D Company said. "Although we're not here, we're still going to help them build a better country."
Sturm said the transfer and other events send a clear signal to the Iraqi people. "The movement of American forces within Iraq shows the people that there is validity to the security agreement," he said. "This is definitely a symbol of Iraqi sovereignty."
(From a Multinational Corps Iraq news release.)