BAGHDAD (Army News Service, Oct. 27, 2009) -- Among the many ways to judge the continued progress in Iraq is by counting the increasingly fewer number of U.S.-controlled properties in the International Zone.

The Wisconsin Army National Guard's 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, part of Joint Area Support Group-Central, helped contribute to that progress, Oct. 25, when they handed the keys to two large properties inside Baghdad's International Zone back over to the Iraqi government -- a symbolic gesture that transferred the property to the Iraqis.

"In terms of square footage of habitable structures, Essayons and Freedom Compound are the largest we've turned over so far," said the 32nd Brigade's Maj. Gregory Schlub, who is the officer in charge of real properties for Joint Area Support Group-Central, in Baghdad.

The two properties, formerly used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, include about 25 acres of land and buildings with about 380,000 square feet of floor space. Included among that is 650 apartments, three business towers, a museum, seven villas and equipment and furnishings valued at nearly $12 million.

The 7.6-acre Essayons property holds 10 buildings, along with some $279,275 of furnishings and equipment. The nearby Freedom Compound, about 17.4 acres, holds 34 buildings and about $11.7 million in furnishings and equipment. That compound was remodeled and lodging facilities were constructed with money from the Development Fund for Iraq.

Schlub said that turning property over from the Americans to the Iraqis is more than a ceremony and the symbolic gesture of handing over a key.

"The most challenging part is to ensure that the property is acceptable to the government of Iraq, environmentally, structurally, and that we turn it over in a fully functional condition," he said.

Sameer Al-Haddad, secretariat of the Committee for Receiving Real Properties and Camps Office of the Prime Minister, said the transfer of the property from the Americans to the Iraqis is significant for both nations.

"The handover of properties back from the coalition forces means a lot to Iraq," he said, saying the government's acceptance of the property signify Iraq's progress, step by step. "I can see the happiness in the Americans eyes ... they are happy because they feel they have done their jobs -- they helped the Iraqi army to stand up and they can hand over the security issue.

"I just want to say thank you, thanks for all the people who support us, thanks for the American Army," Haddad added.

Joint Area Support Group-Central is responsible securing and administering the International Zone, and for transferring most of the U.S.-controlled IZ properties back to the government of Iraq. The JASG-C is made up of Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers from the headquarters of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, along with a small number of active-duty U.S. Navy and Air Force personnel.

Schlub said as part of JASG-C, the 32nd IBCT is on pace to turn 26 properties over to the Iraqi government by the end of their deployment. The properties turned over Oct. 25 were the 34th and 35th International Zone properties the U.S. military has returned to the government of Iraq since the U.S.-Iraq security agreement took effect Jan. 1.

Seven more properties are scheduled to be turned over before the year ends.

(Lt. Col. Tim Donovan writes for Joint Area Support Group - Central and the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team)