BAGHDAD - Only a few years ago, it might have been hard to believe a quiet, peaceful patrol on the streets of Baghdad where U.S. Soldiers work together with Iraqi authorities could be possible.

Today, seeing is believing as Soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, regularly carry out presence patrols in Baghdad mahalas, or residential neighborhoods, with Iraqi Federal Police planning and leading the missions.

Army leaders say the ultimate goal is to turn those operations entirely over to their Iraqi counterparts.
"The main reason why we are here is to train the (Iraqi Federal Police), and the armed forces, and to turn it over to them so they will be able to take care of their people," said Sgt. Christian Aleman, from Miami, Fla., a team leader with Battery B, 2nd Bn., 15th FA.

The U.S. Soldiers are minimizing a potentially negative effect on Iraqi civilians by following the lead of the Iraqi Federal Police.

"It's pretty quiet," said Spc. Joseph Hambleton, from Long Grove, Iowa, a forward observer assigned to 3rd Platoon. "Some of the locals that we do see, we stop and communicate with them a little bit. They know we are there for them (and that) we aren't there to harm them."

One of the main purposes of their patrols is to help build the confidence of Iraqi citizens in their own army and police forces.

"It allows the people to see us working hand-in-hand, to see the (Iraqi) soldiers on the ground leading us," said 2nd Lt. Gordon Rutledge, from Madison, Wis., platoon leader for 3rd platoon, Battery B, 2-15.

Warrant Officer Imad Jabbar Diham, with the 1-1 Iraqi Federal Police Brigade, works with 2-15 at their Joint Tactical Operations Center and said the patrols have been part of an important learning process for the Iraqi Federal Police.

"We are doing partnership patrols with the coalition forces and they are helping (us)," he said. "If we make a mistake on the patrol, the coalition forces will tell us about that mistake, (so it won't) be done again in the future."

As U.S. forces continue to transfer responsibility of patrols and other operations over to the Iraqi Security Forces, they simultaneously are preparing for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Rutledge said the improvements the Iraqi Federal Police officers have made in just the last two months alone give him confidence in the U.S. withdrawal timeline.

"We really are making progress with the federal policemen here. Their lower level leadership that I work with on a (regular) basis have definitely improved (and moved) toward intelligence-driven operations instead of waiting for something to happen and reacting," he said. "In the two short months I've been here, that's a great leap."