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Coalition Turns Over More Security Mission to Iraqis

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq, Aug. 19, 2005 – The coalition turnover of the security mission to Iraqi forces is proceeding apace in the area around Saddam's hometown, said the coalition commander in the area.

Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto, commander of the 42nd Infantry Division and Multinational Division North Central, said that Iraqi security forces are picking up the missions in his region and they are able to take the fight to the insurgents.

Taluto spoke with reporters traveling with Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Myers is in the midst of a 10-day visit to assess troop morale. Taluto commands the coalition forces stretching from the suburbs of Baghdad to the Kurdish areas of the north.

"We have turned over or closed nine forward operating bases (to Iraqi forces)," Taluto said in an interview Aug. 17. "We will soon turn over the palace that has served as our headquarters." The palace on the Tigris River in Tikrit has served as the headquarters for the region since the 4th Infantry Division first went in to the country in the initial liberation.

The general said the nature of the insurgency in his area has remained fairly constant. "It's a multilayered insurgency," he said. At the most fanatical level are the allies of wanted terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

This group encourages foreign fighters to enter the country and launch suicide attacks on coalition forces and - increasingly - on Iraqi civilians in an attempt to foment civil war. Zarqawi is affiliated with al Qaeda and its purported goal is to bring the world back to the 7th century. While primarily foreign, there are Iraqis who support this extremist goal, and provide support and shelter for Zarqawi.

A second layer of the insurgency contains those who lost power when Saddam fell. Former Baath Party members have nothing in common with the Zarqawi extremists, except the need to strike at the coalition. They have an "alliance of convenience" with Zarqawi's group, but that certainly cannot last that long, officials in Baghdad said. "These people don't want the return of the Caliphate, they just want absolute power back," Taluto said.

The third layer is common criminals who want to keep the area in chaos, "because it is good for their business," Taluto said. This group pays impoverished Iraqis to plant improvised explosive devices or to fire mortar attacks or to fire small arms.

"Their common interest is to create chaos and get rid of the coalition that is protecting the process, before the coalition can stand up the Iraqi army," he said.

Training of the Iraqi units is going well, the general said, with some outstanding Iraqi battalions emerging in his area. "You can count how many guns you gave (the Iraqi security forces), you can count how many trucks, but there is a 'feel' that you get from these units that is tough to quantify," Taluto said. "I know every Iraqi battalion commander in this area. I know their qualities, and you get a feel about the unit."

There are five Iraqi brigades in the area and their performance is "very solid," Taluto said. He said he is not looking at the situation through rose-colored glasses. Each brigade has its individual problems and those problems are being addressed, he noted.

The biggest resource needed now is sustaining the units. Maintaining weapons, vehicles, training and personnel are among items that need work. Taluto said he expects improvements in this piece once a new government is formed following the December elections. Building a Ministry of Defense or Ministry of the Interior infrastructure is important to the long-term capabilities of the Iraqi security forces.

The 42nd Infantry Division comes from the New York National Guard. The area has a mix of active and reserve component soldiers, as well as coalition forces. Taluto said the training the division received prepared them for Iraq. "We were so prepared for this mission, there was absolutely no drop-off once we took over from the 1st (Infantry) Division," he said.

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Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto, USA

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