By Army Sgt. Amanda Gauthier
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 22, 2009 - U.S. military officials signed over Camp Ramadi to the Iraqi government Jan. 20, signifying another step toward increased Iraqi responsibility and control. Iraqi army and U.S. military officials signed the memorandum of agreement at Camp Ali, an Iraqi segment of Camp Ramadi here in Anbar province, west of Baghdad. The memorandum outlined the areas of the camp that coalition forces will continue to use through 2011.
"Signing over of [Camp] Ramadi is more symbolism than it is an actual event," Army Col. Ronald Kapral, commander of Camp Ramadi and the Washington Army National Guard's 81st Brigade Combat Team. "It shows that the U.S. military and the coalition forces are starting to prepare to turn over and demilitarize the bases that we have been using for the past five years.
"[The Iraqi army is] starting to support themselves," he continued. "They are proving training we have given them over the past three years is starting to pay off."
Ramadi was a center of Sunni insurgent resistance in the years following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. The area is now better known as one of Iraq's biggest success stories, military officials have said.
Coalition forces took possession of Camp Ramadi, formerly known as Camp Junction City, in 2003 shortly after the ground offensive. Since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, coalition forces have returned a handful of bases in Ramadi to the Iraqi government.
Although the signing marks a significant step for the Iraqi government, the majority of the troops stationed on Camp Ramadi will notice little change, if any.
"For those of us who physically live on Camp Ramadi, it really doesn't change the normal day-to-day operations," Army Lt. Col. Kevin McMahan, the Camp Ramadi operations officer, said. "What it does mean, from a long-term perspective, is that coalition forces are giving back the bases and land to the Iraqis, due to their sovereignty."
Force-protection measures will not change, and camp improvement projects will continue, officials said. The physical structures built on Camp Ramadi will be handed over in 2011 or torn down. Part of the agreement is for coalition forces to put the base back to the way they found it.
"From my personal opinion, it is the beginning of the end," McMahan said. "We are posturing to give back bases to the Iraqis. This will allow us to take a more supportive role."
(Army Sgt. Amanda Gauthier serves with the 81st Brigade Combat Team.)