A growing number of Iraqi troop battalions — nearly four dozen as of this week — are playing lead roles in the fight against the insurgency, and American commanders have turned over more than two dozen U.S.-established bases to government control, officials said yesterday.
Lt. Col. Fred Wellman, a spokesman in Baghdad for the U.S. command that is responsible for the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces, said approximately 130 Iraqi army and special police battalions are fighting the insurgency, of which about 45 are rated as “in the lead,” with varying degrees of reliance on U.S. support.
The exact numbers are classified as secret, but the 45 figure is about five higher than the number given on Nov. 7 at a briefing by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who previously led the training mission. It is about 10 higher than the figure Gen. Petraeus offered at a Pentagon briefing on Oct. 5.
An Iraqi battalion usually numbers between 700 and 800 soldiers.
As another measure of progress, Col. Wellman said about 33 Iraqi security battalions are now in charge of their own “battle space,” including parts of Baghdad. That figure was at 24 in late October. Col. Wellman said it stood at three in March.
Also, American forces have pulled out of 30 “forward operating bases” inside Iraq, of which 16 have been transferred to Iraqi security forces. The most recent and widely publicized was a large base near Tikrit, which U.S. forces had used as a division headquarters since shortly after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003.