Iraqi troops have begun training on American-provided M1A1 Abrams tanks, firing live rounds at a training center in Besmaya, Iraq.

Earlier this month, American officials announced the Iraqi army would acquire 140 of the advanced battle tanks over the next 18 months. The deal was a break from previous U.S. policy not to provide the Iraqis with advanced, heavy weaponry.

According to a U.S. Army news release, Iraqi units with the 5th Battalion, 36th Regiment, 9th Iraqi Army Division are the first to train on the tanks. They fired the tanks’ main guns at both moving and stationary targets at a range of 1,100 to 2,200 meters. They also fired the tanks’ 7.62mm machine guns.

The 28 Iraqis, who are then expected to train other Iraqis, are being trained by master gunners from Fort Knox, Ky., officials said.

The 42-day course is the first stage of the "delivery, fielding and training" program established by the Multi-National Security Transition Command.

Officials with the command did not answer questions about whether the Iraqis paid for the tanks under the Foreign Military Sales program or they were donated by the U.S. military.

The move to equip Iraqis with the tanks is the latest effort by the American military to reshape the Iraqi force. Humvees are now widely used among Iraqi forces, as are other vehicles in use by the American military. And most symbolically, the Iraqi military has adopted the American M-16 rifle as the replacement to the ubiquitous AK-47.

That shift to the M-16 sparked debate about how much the new Iraqi army should be modeled after the American force. Some officials said the Iraqis should be trained to better use their own equipment, while others have argued that the American-made weapons represent an advancement that will help the nascent force mature. When the M-16 deal was announced last year, American officials were reported to have denied Iraqi requests for advanced arms such as the Abrams tank and Apache helicopters, partly out of fear that the weapons could fall into the hands of insurgents.

The cost of an Abrams tank is estimated at $4 million, according to the Army.

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