CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq -- "Today marks the first day, of the first step of that journey... I am convinced that we will be successful," said Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer on Aug. 31.
Zilmer, commanding general of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), spoke in Camp Habbaniyah during a ceremony held to celebrate the Iraqi Army 1st Division taking over operational control of its 3rd Brigade.
This is the first fully operational, independent brigade that the Military Transition Teams have trained, said Chief Warrant Officer James L. Duncan, 1st Iraqi Army MiTT engineering advisor.
"(Thursday's) events show the world, that they (the Iraqi Army), are ready. They're ready to take control, they want to take control, and they have the ability," said Duncan.
During the ceremony, a platoon of Marines marched onto the field in position next to two platoons of Iraqi soldiers. Marine and Iraqi officers sat in the stands and watched as the Iraqi Army conducted close order drill and then simulated an urban assault. But before the Iraqi's demonstrated these new skills, Zilmer stood up and addressed the crowd.
"We sit on the threshold of the day when (the Iraqi) 3rd Brigade will take battle space and join (the Iraqi) 1st Division as we move forward in this important transformation," said Zilmer, a native of Reading, Pa., who then paused to allow for translation.
"The challenges that we face, the challenges that face the Iraqi people, are immense," Zilmer looked at the silent crowd, "but the strength of Iraq is in the Iraqi Army, and the many soldiers (who) are here today, in their service and their sacrifice."
Zilmer returned to his seat in the stands amid the applause of Iraqis and Marines alike.
"This is the first time an Iraqi Division has taken control of a Brigade in the Al Anbar province," said Duncan. Duncan also said that this is a big step towards the eventual return of U.S. forces home from Iraq.
"The more battle space we give them... the more of this country they're taking over, so it gives us a chance to start reducing the amount of troops we have in these areas."
General Tariq Abdul Wahab Jasim, commanding general of the 1st Iraqi Army Division, vowed that taking over battle space from American forces would not stop with Habbaniyah.
"We take an oath with our army and our people, to go forward with the same effort to restore peace and order to all the battle space."
Tariq finished his speech by thanking everyone who supported peacekeeping in Iraq.
"A thousand salutes to those who have spilled their blood in sacrifice to our country, which without them we would never have this great accomplishment."