By Sgt. 1st Class Samantha Stryker, 17th FiresFebruary 17, 2010
BASRAH, Iraq (Feb. 17, 2010) -- U.S. military leaders returned four camps to the government of Iraq in the country's southern region Jan. 30.
In a second round of camp closures in Basrah Province in the last month, U.S. forces and their Iraqi Army counterparts held ceremonies signifying the increasing ability of Iraqi Security Forces to provide stability to the region and the drawdown of U.S. combat troops in accordance with the security agreement.
All four of the ceremonies were attended by Col. Steven L. Bullimore, 17th Fires Brigade commander; Sameer Alhaddad, a representative of the chief of staff of the Iraqi prime minister, and Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Noor Swady al Dalmy, 14th Iraqi Army Division commander.
Alhaddad talked about the significance of the events and what they mean to the Iraqi people, their government and their U.S partners.
"These events show that democracy is being improved, the security issue is being improved, and government is moving forward," Alhaddad said. "It shows that the Army is stronger and is capable of handling our security, capable to move forward against terrorism."
The ceremonies have an important impact on the partnership between Iraq and the U.S., Bullimore said.
"These ceremonies are the official start of a significant change in day-to-day operations and a public demonstration of our transition with the Iraqi military," he said. "This transition to tenancy on these four bases sets the conditions for physical moves after the elections."
The ceremonies were held at Al Hindiyah, Camp Sa'ad, Camp Wessam and the camp simply known as Naval Base, where American Military Transition Teams are housed as they train, advise and conduct joint-military operations with Iraqi forces.
The ceremonies began mid-morning at the Naval Base, headquarters of the 50th Brigade, 14th Iraqi Army Division, responsible for the security in the eastern part of Basrah city.
Afterward, leaders walked to Al Hindiyah, where the 53rd Brigade headquarters is located, about three city blocks from Naval Base. Sameer and the military leaders confidently walked along the city streets as Iraqi forces provided security.
"Basrah is proof that the Iraqi Army is strong enough to take over security and we will show the people that the government can protect them," Alhaddad said. "Today we walked down the street with a few American military, and we proved we could provide for their security."
"The American Army can walk down the street and walk with the Iraqi people," he said.
The troops at the final two locations -- Camp Sa'ad, the 52nd Brigade headquarters, and Camp Wessam, the home of the 14th Iraqi Army Division headquarters -- held ceremonies in the same fashion as the first two.
Each ceremony involved a platoon of U.S. and Iraqi Soldiers positioned next to each other, representing the partnership the two militaries have shared for years.
Before the ceremonies, Alhaddad greeted Soldiers. He talked about the mood of the event.
"You can see the happiness in the eyes of the American Army; they did a great job in Iraq helping the people stand up," he said. "At the same time, we see the happiness in the Iraqi Army eyes as they receive the property and continue to prove they are capable to secure the area."
Bullimore said that the relocation of U.S. forces would not deteriorate the working relationship between the armies.
"While our partnership will remain strong, it is not necessary that we literally live onsite at all of these locations," Bullimore said.
According to Maj. Kevin Jackson, 17th Fires Brigade operations officer, the Soldiers who lived and worked at three of the four camps will now leave from a U.S. base to meet up with their Iraqi partners to continue training and advising them.
Jackson said that the few remaining U.S. troops at Camp Wessam will continue to live and work at the 14th Iraqi Army Division, headquarters for the duration of the brigade's time in country.
Earlier this year United States Division-South returned Camps Hutch and Area 51, both located in the Shaibah Training Center. Until recently a platoon of Soldiers from 1st Battalion (Air Assault), 377th Field Artillery remained at Area 51 after their ceremony. Now only Iraqi soldiers remain.
Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment, 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division, who are attached to the 17th Fires Brigade, provide security, enablers and support services such as food, vehicles and maintenance for both the Military Transition Teams and their Iraqi partners at the camps.
Basrah Province is 11,850 square miles and shares a border with Kuwait to the south and Iran to the east. The province is roughly the size of the state of Arizona.