By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
May 27, 2009 - Southern Iraq is "a much better place to live and raise a family than it was a year ago," thanks to tremendous strides in security, governance, job opportunity and essential services, the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team said today. Army Col. Philip Battaglia described two major lines of progress he's seen since his "Long Knife Brigade" arrived at Multinational Division South last year: one focused on security and the other, on local government.
"The Iraqi security forces have developed into a professional, lethal force, capable of independently securing their citizens and its sovereign borders," he said.
Battaglia noted the role these forces played during Iraq's recent provincial elections, for which they took the security lead at a time of "increased vulnerability." In addition, the Iraqis took security responsibility for the 5,000-year-old Ziggurat of Ur, an ancient national treasure that previously had been protected by coalition forces. Battaglia called the transfer a high point for him and his solders and a highlight of their deployment.
"I am extremely proud to personally witness this special event in honor of a site that is one of the oldest structures in the history of the world," he said at last week's ceremony marking the transfer. "We will always look back on our time here as a very special moment in the history of this great nation."
The colonel said he knows the site is in good hands. "I have the utmost confidence in the leaders and the capabilities of the army, police and the border police agencies within my area of operation," he said. "It has been my brigade's pleasure to partner with these forces this past year, and I truly believe that they will continue to have tremendous success."
Meanwhile, the Long Knife Brigade has worked hand in hand with the Iraqis to improve governance. This, he said, has improved local government's capability to provide essential services and economic opportunities to their people.
Battalgia outlined projects the provincial reconstruction teams and his brigade civil affairs soldiers have helped the Iraqis advance to improve infrastructure, deliver services and create jobs.
"We have had an amazing year, and we are proud to have been part of all these recent successes," he said.
With about one-third of the brigade returned to Fort Hood, Texas, and the remainder to redeploy next month, Battaglia said he feels "extremely optimistic about the future of Iraq."
"Due to the tremendous efforts of the Iraqi people, the Iraqi security forces, ... the provincial reconstruction teams and the coalition forces, the three provinces of southern Iraqi are much better and safer places," he said.
Battaglia praised his soldiers for their hard work and dedication and thanked the families and friends at home who supported them during their deployment.
"It has truly been a team effort this past year," he said. "Our families' sacrifices have allowed us to focus on our mission and to return back to Fort Hood next month with pride in a job well done."