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CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait — V Corps has begun shifting its main headquarters from Kuwait to just west of Baghdad, a move officials said demonstrates how the focus of the war with Iraq has changed.

“Now it’s the fun part of the mission,” said Col. David Brown, V Corps chief of operations. “We’re going to see kids smile. We’re going to let the Iraqis choose their own destiny.”

On Friday morning, about 70 Humvees and trucks packed with equipment and people began the roughly 400-mile trek to Baghdad, where V Corps will re-establish its headquarters. Although the plan may change, the unit hopes to settle into one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces.

Overall, nearly 400 vehicles and 1,000 people will be part of the transition.

The V Corps headquarters component has been directing military operations throughout Iraq from Camp Virginia, west of Kuwait City. Troops have been here since the fall, participating in Operation Internal Look, a command and control exercise, and then Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Most troops arrived in January.

Being based in Iraq will give leaders a better feel for the next stage of the operation and what they have accomplished so far.

“Now we’re going to see the results of our work,” said Lt. Col. Dan McLean, deputy chief of operations. “What we do is not as physical as combat, but it’s exacting and important.”

For the past several days, V Corps troops have been breaking down camp. They have lowered tents, packed communications gear and rounded up razor wire. Nearly every Humvee in the convoy is pulling a trailer.

An advance team left earlier in the week to scout a new location.

“I’m ready for a change,” said Sgt. Dawn Keesee, part of the corps’ nuclear, biological and chemical detection unit. “The road to Baghdad also means one step closer to home.”

Her husband is in Heidelberg, Germany, home of V Corps.

Capt. Mike Bajema said the move will allow him to see the results of his work as an operations battle officer.

“I know what I’ve seen on TV. I don’t think Iraq will be like that,” he said, referring to scenes of looting. Bajema said he expects Baghdad to be 90 percent peaceful, but he is ready to see it with his own eyes.

Sgt. Sandra Sadiq, an administrative clerk, said she was anxious to experience the capital city of Iraq.

“This is history. I am going to be a part of that,” she said.

Soldiers went through a variety of briefings on Thursday, the day before the convoy moved out. They were told to start taking anti-malaria pills and admonished not to give food, water, candy or anything else to children or adults expected to line sections of the convoy route. Such actions could endanger or disrupt the convoy, they were told.

They were lectured to make sure their weapons are clean and their vehicles ready for the trip.

“Our goal is to get there safely,” Brown said. “This is not like driving back from Grafenwöhr [training range in Germany] to Heidelberg or Darmstadt.”

Brown said there was a chance the convoy could encounter snipers or paramilitary troops along the way. The route had been cleared of mines, he said.

He said the major fighting is over, but dangers still exist.

“This is still a combat operation and there are still people who don’t want us out there,” he told the troops before departure.

He said the scenes of looting and unrest are, in some ways, not unlike scenes in America following a local team’s success in a major sporting event.

He promised his troops that the journey would be the trip of a lifetime.

“This is a historic day — a day to see a free Iraq,” he told them. “Enjoy it.”


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