FORT RILEY, Kan. (Army News Service, Jan. 29, 2007) - Iraqi Army Chief of Staff Gen. Babaker Shawkat B. Zebari visited Fort Riley training areas Jan. 26 to observe transition team training, meet with post leaders and conduct a press conference for local and national reporters.
Babaker, who was selected as the commanding general and chief of staff of Iraqi Joint Forces in 2003, met with the commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley, Maj. Gen. Carter Ham, and with Col. Norbert Jocz, commander of 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division.
Transition team training remains among the Army's top priorities in transferring military authority and responsibility to the Iraqi Security Forces. According to Babaker, the mission of American servicemembers in Iraq is moving toward a visible conclusion.
"We hope and we envision that by March '08, the vast majority of the American troops will be able to leave the country and be withdrawn, save for some bases - American bases outside the city limits - which can be used and relied upon when need be," said Babaker, through his translator.
"This has been an on-going process," said Babaker. "We started in the year 2004 in terms of equipment, in terms of personnel, in terms of what we need."
The Iraqi general watched as TT members demonstrated close-quarters combat techniques to a group of mock ISF members at one of the post's urban cluster sites.
"This is a basic thing that they are doing here, but it is very useful because they can put that into practice in the field when they go to Iraq, so this is very useful," said Babaker.
"Anytime you get the highest ranking military officer in the nation to come visit your Soldiers in training is quite important," said Ham. "In this case it's particularly important for him to see the training that's ongoing for the advisers, because it's his soldiers we're advising. He's given us some good insights, some good tips and some advice, and strong encouragement to continue our efforts.
"The security situation clearly is most critical inside Baghdad," said Ham. "In other parts of the country, there have been some great successes with the Iraqi Security Forces. He's convinced that cooperation among the Americans, the other coalition members and the Iraqis can start to bring security to Baghdad just as they have in other parts of the country."
One piece of advice Babaker offered for U.S. military leaders was for TT advisers to remain focused on relations with Iraqi citizens.
"Mostly he's asked to make sure that we continually emphasize the importance of understanding the cultural environment in which our advisers and our Soldiers are operating, so that they can be more effective in their missions inside Iraq," said Ham.
"I am confident that the Iraqi army will be a very powerful, very strong, very capable army in the near future, and it will be a great friend of the American people and military," said Babaker. "We will be with you Americans shoulder-to-shoulder in enforcing the rule of law - not just in Iraq - even outside of Iraq. And terrorism has to be eradicated through the cooperation that exists between you and us."