CAMP TAJI, Iraq — The 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division is now responsible for a chunk of Baghdad that’s been transformed politically since the unit began its first rotation in Iraq two years ago, the unit’s top military official said.

The Fort Riley, Kan.-based division, with 3,500 soldiers, arrived in mid-February.

It officially took charge Wednesday of a sector that runs from the inner-city to the more rural, agricultural areas in the northern outskirts.

About 60 percent of the brigade also took part in the initial phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, with many closing that first tour at Taji, according to Army Col. David Bishop, the brigade’s commander.

“They’ve got a lot of continuity and understanding that most new units don’t have here,” he said Wednesday. “Our [area of operation] is large and diverse ... [so] we’ve got to have a diverse approach to how we deal with people and the situation here.”

Since the division’s last tour in Iraq, political power was transferred to the new Iraqi government and the nation’s first free election took place. Two more elections are scheduled this year as Iraqi ministries continue to take control of their respective areas.

“Coalition forces are working more in a supportive role with the Iraqi government than we were last time,” Bishop said.

“We want to continue fighting the insurgency, but at the same time, we have to train, mentor and coach the Iraqi security forces to the point where they can conduct security missions on their own for the Iraqi people.

“It’s a very doable challenge. Every day, I see Iraqis taking over more missions that used to be handled solely by U.S. forces.”

Bishop points to Baghdad, where the Iraqi 40th Brigade is in control of a critical sector.

At Taji, the 307th Iraqi Army Battalion has its own area and works closely with the U.S. military. When its training is complete, he said, the unit will be assigned a zone by the Iraqi brigade.

The Iraqi Army has displayed a great passion to take over additional responsibilities and tasks from coalition forces, Bishop said.

“There are a lot of good leaders, soldiers with promise,” he added. “There’s a genuine desire by the Iraqi Army to get insurgents off the streets. There are reports that the Iraqi people are getting tired of insurgents, too, and they’ve started turning them in to coalition and Iraqi forces.”

During the next year, Bishop hopes to continue rooting out terrorists and training Iraqi forces so they can pick up more of that battle — all while protecting his own soldiers and returning them safely to the United States.

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