Washington (State Department) -- The U.S. military is reducing the number of its forward operating bases in north-central Iraq and transferring responsibility for security to Iraqi Army units whenever practical, says a senior officer who has worked there for nearly a year.
Army Major General Joseph Taluto is in charge of the Multinational Division in the region, with responsibility for anti-insurgent operations in former Saddam Hussein strongholds like Tikrit. He told Pentagon reporters in a video teleconference from Baghdad October 28 that the number of bases has dropped from 27 to 17 during his tenure. "And the prospects for closing more are there," he added.
Taluto, commander of the 42nd Infantry Division and Task Force Liberty, said putting these bases under Iraqi Army authority has the effect of "reducing coalition force presence." Part of this transition will involve relinquishing Task Force Liberty headquarters in the former presidential palace in Tikrit. The former palace soon will be "turned over to the people of Iraq," he said.
The north and central region of Iraq has been going through what Taluto described as a year in transition. His military forces, he said, have focused on protecting the evolving democratic process there and on building up the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces and their ability to sustain their own logistical needs over time.
Substantial progress has been made in organizing, training and equipping the Iraqi security forces and the general described the capabilities of Iraqi Army and police in this part of Iraq as "fairly robust." The problem remains, he said, that a mature logistics system is not yet in place for them to get the spare parts they need to repair vehicles, small arms or heavy weapons.
"We want the Iraqi [military] leaders to … sustain themselves," Taluuto said, "as the coalition draws down."
The general also talked about important progress being made by provincial government entities. As recently as February, he said, elected provincial governments were not functioning; today there are fully functioning provincial councils and local city governments. "We have seen Iraqi-elected leaders grow into their positions," he noted, "becoming more confident, visible and forceful." The result has been Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems, he said.
Now that the October 15 constitutional referendum is over, Taluto said, the December election will "take center stage." In that referendum, 8 million voters said yes, while 2 million voted against.
The general pointed to the growth of indigenous media outlets in this part of the country. "Print media, radio, local TV and now a satellite television station in Tikrit has given voice to the Iraqi people," he said.
The satellite station is a particularly exciting prospect for Iraqis in Saluhuddin province, he said, "because they are going to be able to speak" and tell "the real story about what is going on in Iraq, and not some of the fabrication that goes on on other Arab channels."
The Iraqis increasingly see their new media outlets as a way to combat "the greater insurgency [al-Qaida in Iraq]," he said, "and to tell their story."
Taluto said he also is seeing a greater wedge developing between al-Qaida in Iraq and the insurgents still loyal to Saddam Hussein. "I don't think al-Qaida in Iraq's message is resonating very well," he said, "and I think we're seeing, at least in north-central [Iraq] … not … as much of their influence."
The 101101st Airborne Air Assault Division soon will replace Taluto's unit.
Multinational Force-Iraq spokesman Major General Rick Lynch gave an update October 27 on the country as a whole, during which he said coalition forces have taken massive amounts of munitions off the Iraqi streets in the past three weeks, including 1,300 mortars, 1,300 rockets and 2,800 artillery rounds.
He also reported a decline in the number of attacks the week of October 23 against a variety of targets. Lynch, who briefed reporters in Baghdad, said there were 653 attacks, down 70 percent from the week before.