Historic Transfer of Military Authority to Take Place in Iraq

For the first time since the fall of Saddam
Hussein's regime, the Iraqi prime minister, through the Iraqi minister
of defense, will take operational control of the Iraqi ground forces
command structure and the country's air forces and navy tomorrow, a U.S.
military spokesman in Iraq said today.

"This is such a huge, significant event that's about to occur
tomorrow," said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a Multinational Force Iraq
spokesman. "It's the one event that puts the prime minister directly in
the operational control of his military forces as his role as the
commander in chief."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will take control of the air
force, navy and one army division -- the 8th Iraqi Army Division, Caldwell
said. It is then Maliki's decision how quickly to take over more
divisions, but he will probably assume control of about two divisions a month,
Caldwell said.

The chain of command will now run from Maliki, through the minister of
defense and the joint force headquarters, to the Iraqi ground forces
command headquarters, down to the division and the individual soldier,
Caldwell said.

"This event, again, continues to show the progress as we move forward
with the Iraqi army's capabilities," he said.

Throughout Iraq, coalition forces are transferring operational control
to Iraqis as the security environment and their capabilities improve,
Caldwell said. Currently, six of 10 Iraqi army divisions are in the lead
in their areas of operations, and underneath the divisions are 26
brigades and 88 battalions in the lead, he said.

"They're maintaining the lead in coordinating, planning and conducting
security operations in the area in which they're operating," he said.
"With more and more Iraqi security forces in the lead, the number of
counterinsurgency operations being conducted by Iraqi security forces,
with coalition forces in support, continues to increase steadily."

As Iraqi security forces assume the lead, they're also setting the
conditions to allow for provincial Iraqi control, Caldwell said. Provincial
Iraqi control refers to civil authorities in a province assuming
independent governance and civil security duties, he said.

"Whether it's Iraqi security forces taking the lead or handover of
governance and security responsibilities to Iraqi civil leadership in the
province, we continue to see Iraqi forces, Iraqi security forces and
Iraqi governance moving forward here," he said.

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