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An Iraqi Army unit ready to control its turf

On the edge of the Sunni triangle, Iraqis took the lead on security, and violence dropped.

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In the fertile "bread basket" of central Iraq's Diyala valley, roadside-bomb attacks have nearly stopped.

This ethnically complex patchwork of towns, villages, fields, and orchards, which US commanders call a "little Iraq," has seen its share of insurgent activity since 2003. But nowadays, the local Sunni Arabs appear inclined to climb aboard the US-backed political process, rather than trying to derail it through violence.

The relative peace in the breadbasket is the result of a carefully managed transition from US to Iraqi security responsibility, US and Iraqi commanders say.

While roadside-bomb attacks in July were down more than 30 percent compared to the same month last year, the drop has been especially drastic in August. The local Iraqi Army unit, the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, officially took the lead in a roughly 1,158 square-mile battle space, containing nearly 300,000 residents, on July 31.

"We're responsible for actual security, and it is going well," says the unit's commander, Col. Theya Ismail al-Tamimi, a former intelligence officer under Saddam Hussein who has gained the Americans' respect by keeping constant pressure on the insurgents. "Attacks are a fraction of what they were," says Colonel Theya, as he is known to both his own troops and the Americans.

US troops recently closed down one of their forward operating bases near here, "since the area was so calm," Lt. Col. Roger Cloutier, a US battalion commander, says.

The breadbasket borders the notorious "Sunni triangle," the mainly Sunni Arab swath of north-central Iraq where the insurgency started in 2003, and where it has proven most enduring ever since.

Yet Diyala province could be among the first areas handed over to full Iraqi security control. Planned reductions of US-led coalition forces, which numbered 161,500 in July, might begin as early as next year - depending on political conditions, as well as the readiness of Iraqi military units, US commanders say.

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