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An Iraqi Army unit ready to control its turf

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About 79,900 Iraqi Army soldiers and national guardsmen have been counted as being "operational" in August, according to the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index. The stated US goal is to train another 18,639 troops.

"In the Sunni triangle, Diyala is well ahead of the others," according to Col. Steven Salazar, US brigade commander for northeastern Iraq.

Iraqi troops still rely heavily on US support, from planning raids, to stand-by air support in case things turn bad, to detainee processing. But the Iraqi 2/2 Battalion is ready for its training wheels to come off, most US liaison officers say.

Theya agrees: "Right now we have the ability to do this on our own."

The Iraqi way

The 2/2 is hardly like an American battalion. Its troops conduct patrols in unarmored pickup trucks, and the chain of command is still too top-heavy, in the American view.

However, an Iraqi formation can fight the insurgents in an efficient manner, Theya says. "We have a dialogue with people. If I find an explosive device, we'll close the road, and also close all the shops along it," he says. "So if people work with us, they help themselves."

Similar tactics by US troops tend to feed local hostility. Iraqi soldiers are inherently less provocative, Theya says, citing cultural affinities among all Arab Iraqis, whether Sunni or Shiite.

His US counterpart, Colonel Cloutier, also talks about the need to "put an Iraqi face" on operations, from patrolling roads to pamphleteering about the constitutional referendum. "When people here see the Iraqi Army, they see their countrymen, their brothers," Cloutier says. "When they see Bradleys and Humvees rolling through, they see Americans."

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