BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. troops are ready to hand over security patrols in Baghdad (search) to Iraqi forces, a U.S. commander said Monday, adding that his soldiers had made significant inroads against insurgent networks in the capital.
American soldiers will gradually move to the edge of the city as more Iraqi Civil Defense Forces (search) and police graduate from U.S.-supervised training, said Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the 1st Armored Division (search), which is in charge of Baghdad.
"It is a necessary and correct step," he said.
Dempsey's announcement comes two weeks after a homicide bomber blew up his vehicle at a gate of the U.S.-led coalition's headquarters, killing at least 31 people and wounding more than 120. Still, Dempsey said the number of insurgent attacks have gone down with the arrest of 118 people during the last three weeks.
"The insurgency in Baghdad is much less organized than it was a month ago and much more fearful than it was a month ago," he said.
The 1st Armored Division had 60 operating bases in Baghdad last year, but now operates only 26. It plans to have only eight bases in the city by May 1 as it hands over responsibility to the 1st Cavalry Division.
The division changes are part of a scheduled rotation in which nearly 130,000 American forces who have been in Iraq will leave and be replaced by about 110,000 fresh troops by this summer.
"When we are talking about moving out of the city, we are talking about kilometers, not hundreds of kilometers," Dempsey said.
U.S. troops now can move to locations in Baghdad in about five minutes. In the future, their response time will increase to about 15 minutes, he said.
Instructions from Washington, he said, were to hand over control of Baghdad to local forces whenever he felt they were ready to cope with the challenges. That stage has been reached, he said.
"Clearly we think we have made a very significant dent in the former regime's apparatus and network," Dempsey said.
Baghdad now has almost 8,000 Iraqi policemen, and the number will go up to 10,000 by May and to 19,000 by February 2005. In addition, the Iraqi Civil Defense Force, which now has 4,000 troops, will have 6,000 in the next few months. It also has 5,700 guards at important facilities and ministries.