This morning Rob Bluey of The Heritage Foundation invited me to take part in a conference call with Gen. Kurt Cichowski from Baghdad to talk to bloggers about the provincial handover process in Iraq.
Tomorrow the Maysan province, best known for the marshes, will be the fourth province to transfer to the control of Iraqi authorities. There are three other provinces which have already transferred to Iraqi control: Muttana, Dih Jar, and Najaf.
The transfer process is a very thorough process: the Joint Committee For the Transfer of Security, composed of members of the Iraqi government and the Coalition, take into consideration issues such as the level of threat, the governance of the province, and the relationship of the multinational forces with the local authoritie, in their evaluation.
There were several questions from the bloggers:
The first question had to do with the internal governance of the province as important factor: Connections to al-Saddar?
Gen. Cichowski pointed out that al-Saddar’s also a political figure and as such there’s an individual evaluation of each political member.
What happens to Amer presence in a province after it transfers?
It’s a coalition presence, and there’s a British battle group operating there. A Memorandum of Understanding spells out the conditions: In Maysan there’s a border between the province and Iran so the battle group will continue to secure the border
Regardding other provinces, is there a timeline?
The criteria is focused on domestic security, and the local police are essential to Iraqi transfer.
My question was regarding the BBC reports on Iraqi refugees leaving: how is it in the area?
Gen. Cichowski hadn’t seen the BBC report but pointed out that 11% of population of Irag lives in those 3 provinces that have transferred and there’s there’s only 0.2% of the violence in the country. Those provinces have seen a 24% drop in violence after transfer.
The next question pertained on what happens if the Iraqi forces need help?
The General explained that during the confrontation with the Sons of Heaven, the Iraqis first asked for Iraqi army help and when they believed they needed more help the coalition provided support but it was resolved by the Iraqi forces.
3-4 more provinces are being considered in the future.
Which will be the 18th? Baghdad’s province is the more challenging.
Does this represent a shift towards the Mahdi Army, the military wing of al-Sadr’s political organization?
Gen Cichowski explained that Coalition forces are not against any particular group, but against illegal acts of illegal armed groups, not any specific group by its name.
Other points that Gen. Cichowski mentioned in the conversation:
All 4 provinces are in the South and predominantly Shia.
Very important to understand that the government of Iraq realizes that this is a conditions-based process.
Provincial Iraqi control is but one part of UN mandate; when the 18th province is transferred it’ll depend on the status of the country as a whole to determine what the Coalition status will be.
Please continue the great support for the families of servicemen.
How’s morale in the face of the 15-month extension? It is tough news, but it gives you a sense of stability.
My thanks to Rob Bluey for inviting me to take part in the call.
Update: Rob Bluey:
The transfer of Maysan is significant because the it borders Iran and Muqtada al-Sadr has had strong ties to the province. It is heavily Shiite. Tomorrow’s ceremony, Cichowski said, will resemble a Fourth of July celebration in the United States, with much pomp and excitement.