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Iraq’s Army assumes control of forces near Fallujah

1 Jan 2006 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Iraq’s army took a leap forward for greater independent responsibility today when the 1st Iraqi Army Division assumed operational control of another brigade.

Marines and soldiers of Regimental Combat Team 5, based in Fallujah, turned over operational control of Iraqi soldiers assigned to 4th Brigade to the 1st Iraqi Army Division in a ceremony marking the transfer of authority.  Iraqi soldiers serving in the brigade operate in joint and independent battlespaces ranging from this small city west of Abu Ghraib to regions north of Fallujah. 

“On behalf of the 5,000 Marines, sailors and soldiers of Regimental Combat Team 5, I want to say how special and important today is,” said Col. Larry D. Nicholson, commanding officer of RCT-5. 

This was the second such ceremony in as many months.  In September, Iraq’s 1st Division assumed authority over 3rd Brigade, based in Habbaniyah.

The transfer is part of a planned turnover of forces and independent battlespace to Iraqi Security Forces, who will assume increasing responsibility for fighting terrorism in Al Anbar Province.  Iraqi soldiers of 4th Brigade have been fighting alongside Marines in the region battling terrorists.  Now, they will continue to work with Marines, but on a more independent basis.

“In July 2004, I walked this ground and imagined what might occur here one day,” Nicholson told the gathering of Iraqi commanders and soldiers.  “That dream today has been fully realized.  It’s a dream realized through the hard work of the men of 4th Brigade; men on duty and on the job.”

Nicholson said Iraqi soldiers proved their mettle in the past months by fighting insurgents alongside Marines, sharing in the risks and the victories over terrorism.  Both Marines and Iraqi soldiers, he said, learned to trust and rely upon one another because of the fortitude displayed by Iraqi soldiers – or jundi – on the battlefield.

“Last week, jundi, Marines and police patrolled the streets of Gharmah,” he explained.  “That couldn’t have been imagined two years ago.  Marine and jundi have fought together, died together and bled together.”

Nicholson said Iraqi soldiers’ courage was displayed in April when insurgents attacked U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces in Gharmah, a small city north of Fallujah. 

“Jundi were down to their last magazine,” he said.  “They kept fighting and did not stop.  That bravery has affected me tremendously.”

Iraqi Army Brig. Gen. Abdullah Abdul Satter Abdul Karem, commander of 4th Brigade, said the transfer from U.S. to Iraqi command was a historic occasion for the brigade, stating his Iraqi soldiers “honor the men of our country.”

“This is an indicator of the level of training of the jundi of 4th Brigade,” Abdullah said.  “We are dedicated to building a free Iraq to defeat terrorism.”

Abdulah lauded the soldiers of his brigade, reminding them of the security they have already brought to the region.  Iraqi soldiers from 4th Brigade fought battles in Fallujah, Gharmah and Karbala, he said.  They also distributed medical assistance to local residences and assisted in rebuilding Fallujah following the battle in 2004.  Additionally, they protected electoral candidates from assassination attempts prior to Iraq’s first free elections last year.

Iraqi soldiers and Marines will continue to fight alongside each other, despite the command relations changing.  They will share battlespace and coordinate joint and bilateral operations in the coming months, even as Iraqi Security Forces take charge of greater swaths of territory from Marines in the region.

“Although the relationship has changed,” Nicholson said, “we’ll continue to look forward to working together … to defeat the enemy.”