CAMP CASEY, South Korea — With violence in Iraq expected to increase in coming weeks, Iraqi liaison officers will be attached to the 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team after it deploys to Iraq in late summer, to coordinate operations with soon-to-be-independent local security forces, according to a Pentagon official who briefed 2nd Brigade leaders earlier this week.

Col. Tom Baltazar, Iraqi team chief for the assistant secretary for Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict, in the Defense secretary’s office, told 2nd Brigade leaders the violence probably still will be worsening when the combat team arrives in Iraq.

“The president … said we can expect a spike in violence before it quells. I don’t think anyone thinks that violence will go down in the near term,” he said.

The brigade is to arrive in Iraq shortly after the handover of sovereignty to the Iraqi government, slated for June 30. After that, the Coalition Provisional Authority, which has governed Iraq since last year, will transition to the U.S. Embassy.

“The political/military situation over there is going to be very fluid. A date in a continuum is just a date. The transition is going to take much longer than that,” said Baltazar.

After the handover, the Iraqi ministries of the Interior and National Defense are to have a say in how Iraqi security forces are used, he said.

“They have gone from a regime where everything was centrally controlled to … an elected national assembly who will have control over the training, equipping and deployment of those respective security services,” he said. “Instead of us dealing with it unilaterally, the Iraqis are going to have a say in how they react to violence.”

Iraqi liaison officers will be attached to the combat team, Baltazar said. “It will be a liaison for the brigade combat team to the respective Iraqi security force commander. I think it will make a difference.” Eventually, he said, the United States will be trying to hand responsibility for all Iraqi security forces back to the Iraqis, “where it should be.”

Combat team members can expect to play an important role in local government when they arrive in theater, he said.

“They are going to be involved in civil administration. Even though there is going to be this transition, they probably will still be deeply involved in day-to-day activities in their respective area of operations,” he said.

This might entail essentially running a city and involvement in local councils and community activities, he said.

“Because of their mere presence, and being U.S. soldiers, they are going to be viewed as a power organization,” Baltazar said.

The U.S. goal is to instill confidence in Iraqi local, regional and national leaders so they can take over the role of government, he said.

The U.S. military has no peer in combat but it isn’t the best-prepared organization to govern a country, he added.

“We are a de-facto government (of Iraq), and we are not trained to do it very well. Everybody recognizes that when you wear the uniform of the U.S. military, you bring with it a lot of capability and training. What we are still struggling with is the ability to interact at the post-conflict level,” he said. “Our training base is still building on that.”

Six months spent in Iraq this year — first as Lt. Gen. Jay Garner’s chief of staff and later as U.S. administrator Paul Bremer’s chief of regional operations — have given Baltazar insights into local culture, which he passed on to the combat team leaders.

“You have to understand the Iraqi mindset. It is the Third World way of life. You have to take care of yourself first and look after the family. In terms of the priorities, family is their number one priority, then they have a tribal affiliation that is also key, then community … and religion … then it is Iraq as a nation,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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