WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, Jan. 3, 2007) - The Iraqi government will have command-and-control of all of its ground forces by the end of 2007, a senior U.S. military officer based in Baghdad predicted today.

The year 2007 "is truly the year of transition and adaptation" for Iraq, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, Multi-National Force-Iraq spokesman, told reporters at a news conference in Baghdad.

All Iraqi army divisions will be under Iraqi Ground Forces Command by summertime, Caldwell said. And, all Iraqi provinces, he said, will go back to Iraqi provincial control by the fall.

"So that by the end of the year 2007, a significant year of transition, the multinational force and the U.S. mission here in Iraq will be truly in support of the efforts of the government of Iraq and not commanding and controlling those things, but working as a support mechanism," Caldwell said.

Meanwhile, President George Bush and his advisors are putting the finishing touches on a new U.S. strategy for Iraq. The president is expected to announce the new plan sometime before his State of the Union address, slated for Jan. 23.

The Feb. 22 terrorist bombing of the Golden Mosque religious shrine in Samarra triggered a surge of Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence across Iraq in 2006, a development that has led to the formulation of a new U.S. strategy for Iraq, Caldwell said.

Caldwell pointed out that, despite the violence, the Iraqis have made considerable advances in the past year.

"Iraqis achieved many accomplishments in 2006 that serve as the foundation for future progress," Caldwell pointed out. Over the course of the past year Iraq seated its first democratically-elected permanent government, he said, and the nation also produced a national unity government that represents Iraqis of all religious sects and tribes.

"Iraqis have stepped up and begun taking responsibility for their own security," Caldwell said, noting that responsibility for security in Muthanna, Dhi Qar and Najaf provinces has been transferred to Iraqi provincial control.

"The Iraqi army and police now have overall responsibility for all law enforcement and security activities in those provinces (and) answer to their respective provincial governors and councils," he said.

Just one of Iraq's 10 army divisions was responsible for operations within its own territory at the beginning of last year. Today, 80 percent of Iraq's army divisions are responsible for their own battle space, he said.

Yet, Iraq continues to be plagued by high levels of unacceptable violence, Caldwell said, noting the mayhem has cost the lives of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

And, more than 800 U.S. servicemen and women gave their lives in service in Iraq over the past year, he said.

"The loss of every single one of these brave Americans is a terrible tragedy for a family somewhere," Caldwell said. "Even as we continue to work to secure Iraq and build a better future for the people of this region, we extend our deepest condolences for their loss and for our eternal gratitude to these families for the sacrifice of their loved ones."

The Iraqis and their coalition partners face significant challenges in 2007, Caldwell said. The Iraqis must increase the capabilities and efficiency in their army and police units, he said, while their government must continue to work to reconcile and unify different segments of the population.

Multinational Force Iraq is committed to assisting the Iraqi government by conducting operations and developing Iraqi security forces to provide the stability needed so that Iraq's new political processes can mature, Caldwell said.

"Coalition forces remain dedicated to this mission, and we have not given up on the Iraqis," Caldwell said. "We cannot write off a country where people have not given up on themselves."

The United States has been fighting terrorism and extremism since the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, where 241 servicemembers, mostly Marines, died, Caldwell said. Iraq is another battleground, he said, that is pitting the forces of freedom against those of terrorism and extremism.

"In partnership with the Iraqi people, we are fighting to demonstrate that there is an alternative besides tyranny and extremism for the people of this region," Caldwell said.