BAGHDAD- In a showcase demonstration of the ever-increasing professionalism of the Iraqi Army, Soldiers from the 17th Iraqi Army Division conducted a combined arms live-fire exercise, including an air assault, and crowd control demonstration at the Qaqa' weapons facility south of Baghdad April 6. The exercise was to demonstrate the division's proficiency in combined operations to key Minister of Defense and Iraqi Security Forces leadership.

"All of us know that artillery support is an important part among the battle requirements along with air support," said Col. Aikram Saddam, 23rd Brigade Commander, 17th IA Div., who was the commander in charge of the combined live-fire exercise.

The Government of Iraq has funded the Iraqi Army with large budgets in recent years but was not able to build a strong Army because of the security situation. However, because security has improved the army is capable of developing into a more professional army according to Saddam.

Dignitaries in attendance to observe the Iraqi Army Soldiers included the Minister of Defense Abul Qadir al-Obaidy, Gen. Babakir Zaibary, Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Army, Staff Maj. Gen. Ali al-Fraijy, commander, 17th Iraqi Army Division, and Maj. Gen. Daniel Bolger, commanding general, Multi-National Division-Baghdad and the 1st Cavalry Division.

"We trust ourselves and our capabilities. Enshalla (if God wills) you are not going to see any difference in maintaining security (when Coalition Forces leave) since we are working on a good plan and exchangeable maps," said al-Obaidy.

The 17th IA Div., is a relatively new division in the Iraqi Army and has been in partnership with the 2nd "Iron" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, commanded by Col. Pat White, of Apple Valley, Calif., for the past six months in the Mahmudiyah Qada.

The Soldiers of the Iron Brigade have spent the months training and assisting the 17th IA Div., in officer and non-commissioned officer development, maintenance and logistics and combat operations. Soldiers from the Iron Brigade's 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 63rd Armored Regiment trained and certified the 17th IA Div. mortar crews to enable indirect fire capabilities and increase their overall combat effectiveness.

The live-fire demonstration opened with the Iraqi soldiers firing 120 mm mortars from a firing point approximately one kilometer from the impact zone. The Iraqi mortar teams fired at least a dozen rounds from their position.

After the mortar live fire, Iraqi Soldiers air assaulted by Mi-8 "Hip" helicopter to an assault objective and conducted a mounted attack in coordination with close air support.

"Iraq today is in a different stage in building its Army and the 17th Div. Soldier's efforts are unique and distinguished. All of the ranks have shown professionalism, and converted southern Baghdad from a world of death to a secure area," said Ali.

The 17th IA Div. training program with Coalition forces was the first of its kind which other Iraqi Army divisions need to follow, according to Ali.

The Iraqi Army demonstrated its crowd control procedures during a simulated 'attack' by civilian rioters. The Soldiers showed their discipline and training by suppressing the rioters in an efficient and methodical manner.

"I appreciate the friendly forces (Coalition forces) support in southern Baghdad and the purpose of this training is to target the small terrorist cells in Mahmudiyah Qada who are targeting tribal and reconciliation committee leaders," said Ali.

In support of the Security Agreement, the Iron Brigade Soldiers and the 17th IA Div. conduct combined combat operations against criminal groups, insurgents and al-Qaeda in the Mahmudiyah Qada. The Iron Brigade's goal is to ensure the 17th IA Div. is fully self-reliant and capable of defending Iraq.

This combined live-fire exercise illustrated to the world the professionalism and effectiveness of the Iraqi Army.