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U.S. Army to cut patrols in Baghdad

The U.S. Army will cut back its patrols of  Baghdad as part of a move to give Iraqis more responsibility for security.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The U.S. Army will cut back on the number of garrisons in Baghdad and conduct fewer armed patrols after the 1st Armored Division hands control of the capital to a fresh Army division and pulls out after a year in the country.

It’s all part of the U.S. strategy to turn over responsibility for security to Iraqis at a time when attacks against Americans are dwindling, said Brig. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, a deputy commander of the 1st Armored Division.

The incoming force, the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division, will billet most of its forces outside Baghdad, closing 19 bases in the city as the 1st Armored returns to Germany in April, Scaparrotti said.

“We’re inside the city in many operating bases looking out,” Scaparrotti said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They will be more on the outside looking in.”

The mellower occupation plan is contingent on a smooth handoff that includes hundreds of tasks, the mismanagement of any one of which could bring the troops storming back into Baghdad. They include maintaining good relations with a testy Shiite Muslim slum and introducing incoming troops to the network of Iraqi informers, Scaparrotti said.

Larger role for 10,000 Iraqi police
The Fort Hood, Texas-based 1st Cavalry will also occupy a larger piece of territory around Baghdad, not just the inner city. The division will entrust central Baghdad, as much as possible, to the 10,000 Iraqi police who are expected to be ready when the 1st Cavalry arrives, Scaparrotti said.

By the time the 1st Cavalry leaves in 2005, Baghdad is expected to have a 19,000-member police force that is robust enough to police the city on its own, the general said.

Elsewhere in Iraq, the troop rotation is under way. In the far north, the Army’s 101st Airborne Division has already begun sending troops home to Fort Campbell, Ky. Its Switzerland-sized piece of territory will be handed to the 5,000-member Stryker brigade of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division.

In the Sunni Muslim areas of western Iraq, the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division will depart, leaving the vast zone to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton, Calif., and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Air Station Miramar, Calif. — some of whom participated in the invasion of Iraq last March.

The Army’s command corps for Iraq, the Germany-based V Corps led by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, is in the midst of being replaced by III Corps, also based at Fort Hood. As V Corps leaves, Sanchez will hand military control of Iraq to Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, III Corps’ commander.

That the handoff needs to happen after just a year is a disadvantage of an all-volunteer military that must send its troops home sooner to keep up morale, said Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“It’s been clear since Vietnam that rotating units in the midst of war means the new force is less experienced than the old force,” Cordesman said. “This is a very personal type of war. The new units don’t have the human intelligence relationships that are critical in low intensity conflicts.”

To fill the gap, the 1st Cavalry has been training in urban warfare and peacekeeping, and has kept in close contact with the 1st Armored Division.

Meetings with local leaders
The new operations and intelligence units will arrive early to ensure the handoff of Iraqi sources goes smoothly. This week, the commander of a brigade that will control the Shiite slum of Sadr City arrived in Baghdad to meet with neighborhood leaders, Scaparrotti said.

The two divisions will overlap by a month in Baghdad, mostly for training purposes, but Scaparrotti acknowledged the possibility for a large combat operation that could take advantage of the extra troops.

Baghdad has grown calmer since November. The number of attacks across the country has slipped from 30 a day to 17 per day in early January. In Baghdad, Scaparrotti credited the drop to the division’s offensives.

“We don’t take for granted that we have turned the corner here,” he said. “I don’t think we have.”

Still, the 1st Cavalry will inherit a city with a semi-functioning government, a budding police force and secure bases — with brand-new barracks — none of which existed when the 1st Armored took control of Baghdad from the Army’s chief invasion force, the 3rd Infantry Division.

“They’ll be better prepared, trained, equipped and organized,” Cordesman said. But, he said, “that doesn’t mean they won’t pay a penalty as new troops in an unfamiliar combat environment.”