U.S. transfers FOB Callahan to Iraqis
January 4, 2009
BAGHDAD — The United States on Saturday turned over its first large base to be transferred to the Iraqis under the terms of the new security framework agreement.
Forward Operating Base Callahan, which began life as the Sha’ab Central Market, is now back in the hands of the Iraqi Ministry of Trade.
The Americans occupied the bombed-out building in March 2007 as part of the surge strategy to increase troop levels in Iraq. They designated the Adhamiyah market as a combat outpost before upgrading it to a larger forward operating base. The last soldiers staying at Callahan left Wednesday.
"You put a police station in the baddest part of the town. Well, we put a battalion in a bad part of Baghdad," said Lt. Col. Michael Pappal, commander of 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, which last occupied the base.
The transfer is part of the security agreement, also called a status of forces agreement, that sets the framework for the American withdrawal from Iraq.
The agreement specifies that Iraq owns all structures "connected to the soil." It also required the Americans to leave some bases when the agreement took effect Thursday — as with Callahan.
Other bases must be transferred June 30, the same day U.S. forces are required to withdraw from "cities, villages, and localities." Planners still are determining which bases will be transferred during that handover. Many leaders expect bases shared with Iraqi forces to be allowed in the cities past that deadline.
Pappal said the Callahan transfer reflects the security agreement implementation and the growing security in Adhamiyah.
The base was a central point during the Shiite uprising that arose in late March in response to the Iraqi government’s Basra offensive. Units from the 1/68 sortied out from the base to respond to insurgent attacks, while soldiers from other units sought out Callahan to eat, sleep or receive medical treatment.
The area around Callahan has since grown more peaceful. The area has just one attack every few weeks where it once saw multiple attacks a day.
"I don’t have to have 700 people sitting here anymore," Pappal said.
Circling Apache attack helicopters and a heavy American troop presence made it clear that U.S. forces weren’t leaving Adhamiyah completely. But that mattered little to Iraqis who could once again see their flag flying from the building. For them, the transfer marked one more step toward full independence.
"This is like a victory to us," said Haadi Hassan al-Jabouri — the qa’im makam, or district head, for Adhamiyah. "It’s a victory for both the Iraqis and the Americans."
The building still bears the scars and scorch marks of more than five years of fighting, but the Ministry of Trade expects to start renovating the facility quickly. Kadim Razak abd Kadim, the market’s general director, plans to have 400 people working on the renovation and for it to be complete within two months.
Officials at the ceremony were already looking forward to taking control of more American bases. Mahdi Hassan Shahab, the market’s administrative manager, said Baghdad has two more markets that belong to coalition forces like the Sha’ab Central Market did before Saturday. Both of those are also scheduled to be transferred to the Iraqis, although he didn’t know exactly when.
For now, though, most Iraqis were just happy knowing the Callahan transfer meant the handover process had begun at last.
"It represents the full sovereignty of Iraq," Kadim said. "The most wonderful thing is they put the Iraqi flag on top of the building."
The Security Agreement ...
Article 5Property Ownership
1. Iraq owns all buildings, non-relocatable structures, and assemblies connected to the soil that exist on agreed facilities and areas, including those that are used, constructed, altered, or improved by the United States Forces.
2. Upon their withdrawal, the United States Forces shall return to the Government of Iraq all the facilities and areas provided for the use of the combat forces of the United States, based on two lists. The first list of agreed facilities and areas shall take effect upon the entry into force of the Agreement. The second list shall take effect no later than June 30, 2009, the date for the withdrawal of combat forces from the cities, villages, and localities. The Government of Iraq may agree to allow the United States Forces the use of some necessary facilities for the purposes of this Agreement on withdrawal.