Iraq to take control of armed forces command in 'gigantic' step, U.S.

September 7th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Iraq to take control of armed forces command in 'gigantic' step, U.S.

Media: The Associated Press
Date: 06 September 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq_Iraq takes control Thursday of its armed forces command, a
major step in its painful path toward independence and an essential move
before international troops can eventually withdraw.

"This is such a huge, significant event that's about to occur tomorrow,"
said U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell. "If you go back and
you map out significant events that have occurred in this government's
formation in taking control of the country, tomorrow is gigantic."

But despite the optimism, the bloodshed continues, with at least 33 people
killed across the country in car bombs, mortar attacks and drive-by
shootings and police finding a total of 29 bodies.

The highly anticipated ceremony, which will put the prime minister in direct
control of the country's military, comes five days after it was originally
scheduled to be held _ when the Iraqi government abruptly called it off at
the last minute.

Neither side publicly revealed many details of the disagreement, other than
to insist that it was more procedural than any dispute over substance.

The handover is so important that it was "not something you want to rush
into. If there's even a question, if there's even a slightest
misunderstanding, you would absolutely want to get that thoroughly resolved
and have complete understanding," Caldwell said.

The U.S.-led coalition has been training and equipping the Iraqi military,
hoping it soon will be in a position to take over securing the entire
country and allow foreign troops to return home.

But how fast this can be achieved is still unclear.

"It's the prime minister's decision how rapidly he wants to move along with
assuming control," Caldwell said, adding that in Thursday's ceremony, he
would take complete control over the country's small naval and air forces,
and the 8th Iraqi Army Division.

"They can move as rapidly thereafter as they want. I know, conceptually,
they've talked about perhaps two divisions a month," Caldwell said.

The 8th Division was recently engaged in a fierce, 12-hour battle with
Shiite militia in the southern city of Diwaniyah which left more than 20
soldiers and 50 militiamen dead.

Days before the battle, the Division's commander, Brig. Gen. Othman
al-Farhoud, told The Associated Press that while his forces were capable of
controlling security, they still needed support from the U.S.-led coalition.

"There are some situations we couldn't do," he said, outlining a need for
coalition air support, medical assistance and military storage facilities.

"In my opinion, it will take time," al-Farhoud said when asked how long it
would take before his division was completely self-sufficient.

Politicians have been optimistic.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in a Tuesday meeting with visiting
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett that fighting in Iraq will have
abated by the end of 2007, and that Iraqi forces will be able to handle any
remaining violence.

Yet the killing has continued.

On Wednesday, two bombs targeting an Iraqi army patrol exploded in northern
Baghdad within minutes at a busy intersection, killing at least nine people
and wounding 39 others, police said. Two of the dead and eight of the
wounded were Iraqi soldiers, police said.

In northeastern Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on a procession of pilgrims
heading to the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south
of Baghdad, killing one person and wounding two.

Tens of thousands of people are expected in Karbala on Saturday to observe
Shaaban, a religious celebration. Many of the pilgrims travel to the city on
foot. State television said a vehicle curfew had been imposed in Karbala
from Wednesday night until the end of the celebration.

Mortar attacks in residential areas in Diyala province, north of Baghdad,
killed three people: a 2-year-old child in the Khan Bani Saad area and two
people in Muqdadiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad, police said.

A dispute over Iraq's flag also showed no signs of abating.

Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region, angered many in Baghdad
with his decision last week to replace the Iraqi national flag with the
Kurdish banner. The Kurdish region has been gaining more autonomy since the
2003 U.S.-led invasion, a worrying development to many Iraqi leaders,
especially Sunni Arabs.

Although Iraq's first interim Governing Council after the fall of Saddam
Hussein decided to change the country's flag,no official version has been

Lawmakers wrangled over the issue in parliament Wednesday, but parliament
speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani insisted the dispute was drawing attention
away from the country's true problems.

"This issue of the flag is not suitable now because we have a security
problem and deficiencies in services and we are in the phase of national
reconciliation," he said.

"The solution is very simple. We have now a flag, even if it belongs to
Hitler," he said, noting that the constitution allows for it to be changed.

"I think we should not continue discussing this issue because it is useless.
The Kurds will keep their position and will never acknowledge this flag. It
is our fault. We have to be swift to form the committee to change the flag,"
al-Mashhadani said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said the arrest of al-Qaida in Iraq's second in
command took place in June and was the most significant blow to the terror
network since the death of al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi, also known
as Abu Humam or Abu Rana, was captured on June 19 _ not a few days ago as
the Iraqi government had initially announced.

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