Sunday, October 30, 2005

US cedes some control in Iraq - The Boston Globe

US cedes some control in Iraq - The Boston Globe

Authority shifts at 27 of nation's 109 military bases

By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times | October 29, 2005

TIKRIT, Iraq -- Seeking to lower the visibility of US troops and grant more authority to Iraqi government forces, the American military has ceded control of 27 of the nation's 109 bases, US and Iraqi officials said.

Thousands of US troops have been redeployed in recent months from bases in Najaf, Karbala, Tikrit, and other cities, and Iraqis are in charge of patrol areas that include four districts of Baghdad and the town of Taiji, northeast of the capital.

American officials announced yesterday that the next major military installation expected to be transferred to Iraqi control was former president Saddam Hussein's palace complex in Tikrit. The site, renamed Forward Operating Base Danger, houses more than 6,000 US troops.

Iraqi and US officials said they had quickened the pace of such security transfers in recent weeks and planned to formalize what had been a piecemeal approach.

''We've already handed over nine different areas north of Baghdad as part of a national plan," said Robert Holby, a State Department official assigned to Tikrit. ''We want to put an Iraqi face on things. Everybody thinks that if we move away from the cities, this will make the violence go down."

Iraqi and American officials involved in negotiating the hand-overs say they are a first step toward withdrawing US troops. The current troop level in Iraq -- 161,000 -- is the highest of the war. The contingent was increased recently to prepare for this month's Iraqi constitutional referendum.

A month ago, generals testified on Capitol Hill that the US military presence may be inflaming Iraq's insurgency because it fueled the perception of a continuing American occupation. The generals also suggested that troop reductions should be considered to wean Iraqi forces from their dependence on US troops.

In recent interviews, Iraqi leaders said that giving more control to their forces would give US troops more flexibility and Iraqi troops more experience.

''We believe that there are some cities where the coalition does not need to be present and there is a need to reduce the visibility of their presence," Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak Rubaie said. ''We also want to give the Iraqi security forces the chance to be in charge of all responsibilities as soon as possible."

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