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Maj. Gen. Tom Turner, right, receives the colors from Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto, center left.
Maj. Gen. Tom Turner, right, receives the colors from Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto, center left. (Anita Powell / S&S)

TIKRIT, Iraq — Standing in the shadow of Saddam Hussein’s former pleasure palaces, officials with the 42nd Infantry Division Tuesday morning formally ceded operations in north central Iraq to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) from Fort Campbell, Ky.

Attendees and leaders praised the progress that has been made since the 42nd ID, a New York Army National Guard unit, took control of the area in February.

“They have helped us in every aspect,” said Abdul Rahman Mustafa Fatah, 54, the governor of Kirkuk province. “Services, projects … for security, also.”

“The mission has been executed brilliantly,” said Lt. Gen. John Vines, commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps and Multi-National Corps-Iraq. “To the men and women of Task Force Liberty, I thank you for a job brilliantly done.”

While in theater, the division made significant changes by: increasing the Iraqi Army units stationed locally to 18 brigades; closing 10 forward operating bases including FOB Danger, the former headquarters; and finding and arresting scores of insurgents.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto, the 42nd ID’s commander, said the division’s successors will carry on with no major changes.

“There won’t be any radical change,” he said. “That’s not in anybody’s interest. Things will just kind of keep going along.”

The 101st, he said, arrived in the area in recent weeks and are “already out there shaking hands and putting their arms around people. They’re going to have to take a little time to build up a relationship with Iraqis.”

Taluto said he feels that security will improve as more locals stop tolerating violence and begin to participate in the political process.

“I for once believe this is tied to the political process,” he said. “I think that as this process goes forward, the insurgency will be affected.”

He also said he felt that increased Iraqi involvement in security and political spheres would portend peace.

“Iraqi solutions to Iraqi issues: we’re seeing more and more of it,” he said.

Iraqi Army Gen. Abdul Jabar, a lifetime resident of the Tikrit area, said he felt the Iraqi Army would soon be up to the challenge of providing security in the area.

“We are ready because of the aid and help from coalition forces,” he said through a translator. “I cannot say we are 100 percent ready, but we are about to be ready.”

A slew of local leaders — including governors from four provinces and prominent Iraqi Army officials — attended to welcome the 101st and bid farewell to the 42nd. After the ceremony, Taluto was all but drowned under a sea of intricate carpets, decorative plates, pieces of art and effusive shows of affection pressed upon him by Iraqi leaders.

Incoming Maj. Gen. Tom Turner, commander of the 101st and Task Force Band of Brothers, expressed optimism at the prospect of returning to Iraq and working with local leaders.

“The 101st Airborne Division, Air Assault, is proud to be back in Iraq,” he said.

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