By Spc. Chris McCann
2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) PAO
MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq — Elements of the Iraqi army celebrated the assumption of authority in the Yusufiyah area southwest of Mahmudiyah in a ceremony Tuesday.
The 4th Battalion, 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army division has made tremendous improvements in personnel, training and equipment readiness over the last eight months, said Maj. William Warner, a native of Union City, Tenn., and the Iraqi Security Forces coordinator for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) out of Fort Drum, N.Y. “Their assumption of responsibility and the designation that they are ‘in the lead’ in the Yusufiyah area are indicative of the exceptional hard work by the officers and soldiers of the 4/4/6 IA.”
The ceremony included speeches from 4/4/6 IA commander Brig. Gen. Ali and other officers of the Iraqi Ground Forces Command, as well as Col. Mike Kershaw, commander of the 2nd BCT, whose 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment “Polar Bears” have been living and working with the 4/4/6 soldiers for the last nine months, training them.
The Iraqi soldiers conducted a pass-in-review, parading before the leadership.
Ali was awarded an Army Commendation Medal with a “V” device for valor for outstanding leadership and work with the 4/4/6. Brig. Gen. Jim Huggins, deputy commanding general (maneuver) for the 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, Ga., presented the award in front of the gathered Iraqi news media and attending dignitaries.
The Iraqi soldiers also conducted two mock skirmishes, taking down “terrorists” first on foot, then from Humvees. The wounded “terrorists” were treated and put into a Red Crescent ambulance while the others were detained and put into Humvees.
Lt. Ali Al-Meahi, visiting from the 1st Bde., 6th IA Div., is in an area where the Iraqi army is also leading operations.
“It’s very important for us to be in the lead,” Al-Meahi said. “There is a lot of communication between the soldiers and the people, and because of the trust the people have with the soldiers, we get a lot of co-operation.”
Sgt. Jarad Asalahe, who serves on Brig. Gen. Ali’s personal security detachment, agreed.
“We have been slowly taking the lead and building relations with the local people and the Coalition Forces. We did a lot of important work here. We try our best to do our job well, and we’re going to keep working hard against the terrorists.”
Over the coming year, Asalahe said, they hope to get Yusufiyah firmly under control.
“We hope we can improve the security situation and work to make the town safer than before, so the people can live in safety,” he said.
Pvt. Hassan Nahas Ma’iuf Al-Hichiemi said that the official transition didn’t matter much to him, but the implications did.
“We want to do our job to protect the people and make it safe here,” he said. “We’d like to see everyone have security, and for terrorist acts to be at zero … I think that’s a very reasonable goal. We can take responsibility now,” Al-Hichiemi said.
The 4/4/6 works largely out of Yusufiyah with the 4-31 Soldiers based on Forward Operating Base Yusufiyah, led by Lt. Col. Michael Infanti, a native of Chicago.
“This means we’re making progress,” Infanti said of the ceremony. “Our Soldiers can see the hard work, the Soldiers that were killed and wounded, made a difference. We’ve made a change and turned over our area to a capable force that’s able to go in and bring the fight to the enemy.”
The process has not been short or easy.
“We live with (the Iraqi soldiers), they’re included on every mission and task. We treat them as equals, and we treat them as brothers,” Infanti said, noting that the Iraqi soldiers will continue to train and work with the 4-31. “They’re more ready than they were nine months ago,” he said. “If you wait for everything to be perfect, you’ll never get anything done.”
Sheikh Ammash Rabaiyyat, head of the Al-Rashid municipal council, was delighted by the ceremony.
“I’m very proud of the Iraqi army,” he said. “They’re able to take care of the whole area, and we’re on the right path. This is how it should be, with a lot of co-operation between the Iraqi army, Coalition Forces and the tribal leaders against terrorism.
“Now we must work harder than ever to keep our area safe, and I thank the Americans for all the hard work they’ve done in Mahmudiyah and Yusufiyah,” Rabaiyyat said.
And although the Iraqis formally have control of the area of operations now, they – and their fellow citizens – understand that the way will not be easy.
“It will be great,” said Gherbi Abbas Jassim, the Mahmudiyah qadaa, or area council, security minister. “As long as the Americans continue to support the Iraqi Army, it will be wonderful. We’ve seen a big change even over the last week – there were no car bombs, no terrorist acts. I think in a year, it will be perfect and very quiet.”
Infanti is one of the Americans who has worked most closely with the 4/4/6, and watched the formal ceremony with interest.
“This makes all the sacrifices our unit has made worth it,” he said.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
By Spc. Chris McCann