ABU GHRAIB, Iraq -- As the American flag descended, the Iraqi sun rose.
Friday morning soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division assumed control of the Abu Ghraib prison from U.S. Army Task Force 134. Iraqi soldiers will provide security for the facility until the Iraqi Ministry of Justice dispatches its own security detail.
“Returning the empty prison to the control of the Ministry of Justice clearly says that enforcement of the rule of law is a cornerstone of the constitutional government of Iraq,” said Iraqi Col. Monam Hashim Fahed, the battalion commander of 2-4-1.
Marines from 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 will remain with the Iraqi brigade for a short duration to serve as a training cadre assisting the Iraqi unit through the initial stages of their mission. Additionally, an RCT-5 military transition team that mentored the brigade for roughly the last year will continue to advise Iraqi commanders and supply any requested guidance.
“It highlights the continued responsibility of the Iraqis,” said Army Lt. Col. Scott Marley, the military transition team leader attached to 2-4-1.
“The significance is that the Iraqi military is taking the lead in a non-conventional mission,” added Army Capt. John Langford, the 29-year-old military transition team intelligence advisor from Auburn, Wash.
The American flag was lowered in a brief turnover ceremony and passed to Army Lt. Col. Stephen Quinn, the 44-year-old battalion commander of 3rd Battalion, 321 Field Artillery Regiment from Virginia Beach, Va., and the outgoing commander of Abu Ghraib security.
Monam, who flanked Quinn during the security turnover, expressed his gratitude following the ritual and assured those in attendance that Iraqi soldiers were prepared to undertake the formidable responsibilities.
“We have been in the city of Fallujah for two years. Our mission is to defeat the terrorists,” he said. “Our soldiers received very good training from the U.S. Army, Marines and Navy SEALS. We participated in the Battle of Fallujah…. And I promise, we’ll do our best.”
Quinn added that Marines noted the aggressiveness of the Iraqi soldiers in battling insurgents.
Several hours later, Army Maj. Gen Jack Gardner, the commanding general of Task Force 134 and overseer of all detainee operations in Iraq, arrived on the scene to determine whether or not all last-minute administrative issues were resolved.
Satisfied that the facility was fit to be transferred to the custody of the Iraqi government, Gardner and two representatives from the Iraqi Ministry of Justice signed several official documents, effectively handing over administrative control of Abu Ghraib prison to Iraq.
Iraqi MOJ representatives presented Gardner with an ornate sword and several other gifts.
Gardner in turn dropped two keys into the hands of one of the MOJ representatives and retired outside for yet another flag-lowering ceremony.
Gardner addressed the dozens of spectators and applauded the efforts of the U.S. servicemembers who served honorably at the prison after the ceremony was completed. He held the tri-cornered, folded American flag in his hands while he spoke.
Gardner then departed in his convoy, soon to be followed by Quinn’s security force.
“Today acknowledges that Iraq is the main effort,” said 1st Lt. Cameron Brown, a 24-year-old platoon commander assigned to G Company. “The U.S. is not Iraq’s future. The Iraqi army is Iraq’s future.”
Browne and his Marines will remain at the prison for a short period to facilitate the transition and to interface with the units in the surrounding areas.
“It’s easy to forget the significance of this in our exit strategy.”