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Col. Shojaa, commander of 1st Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division, and Col. Brian D. Jones, commander, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, salute during a transfer of authority ceremony at an Iraqi army base near Balad, Iraq.
Col. Shojaa, commander of 1st Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division, and Col. Brian D. Jones, commander, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, salute during a transfer of authority ceremony at an Iraqi army base near Balad, Iraq. (Zach Mott / Courtesy of U.S. Army)

Iraqi soldiers have assumed the lead in security responsibilities for parts of Salah ad Din province, including Balad, al Duluiyah and Yethrib, U.S. military officials said.

In a ceremony on an Iraqi army outpost near Balad last weekend, soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 1-8 Combined Arms Battalion handed responsibility to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division.

“We’re not pulling out of here right away; we’re out here to be by their sides,” Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey, command sergeant major of the 1-8 CAB, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said in a military news release. The hand- over helps “put them in the lead and set them up front so the people notice that they’re out front, out leading, (that) they care about their people.”

Training, equipping and giving more responsibility to Iraqi forces are the cornerstones of the U.S. exit strategy in Iraq. Salah ad Din province, in particular, is seen as one of the key areas in the country, both politically and economically. By summer’s end, U.S. officials have said, more than half of Iraq could be back under the purview of Iraqi forces.

But, officials have acknowledged, progress among Iraqi units varies widely.

U.S. military leaders in Salah ad Din province say recent operations give them confidence in the local Iraqi troops.

The Iraqi 3rd Battalion was part of Operation Cowpens, a monthlong sweep of the Jabouri Peninsula that garnered a large number of weapons.

“I believe that doing [Cowpens] jointly was a great factor,” Dailey said in the release. “The [Iraqi] people saw that their people were there. I don’t think it could have been done without the Iraqi army help.”

The 3rd Battalion, 4th Iraqi division was formed in December 2003 and was formerly known as the 203rd Iraqi National Guard Battalion.

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