BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. military will be more sensitive to Islam and intrude less into Baghdad's neighborhoods when a new Army division takes control of the Iraqi capital on April 15, Army commanders said Monday.
It will bring fewer soldiers, fewer tanks and fewer armored vehicles. It plans to spend far less time in the bustling city, remaining instead in eight bases — most of which sit beyond the city limits.
"We'll be much more mobile and less obtrusive in these communities," 1st Cavalry Division's Col. Mike Formica told a press gathering.
The division also intends to display a rudimentary knowledge of Arabic language and customs, Formica said. Officers and sergeants are undergoing "cultural sensitivity training" in Jordan and at Fort Hood before arriving in Baghdad, Formica said.
Many Iraqis complain that American soldiers have been culturally clubfooted in occupation so far, showing little knowledge of or sensitivity to Iraqi and Islamic traditions. Some commanders believe this has turned many Iraqis against the Americans and helped fuel the insurgency.
Incoming Marines plan to live within Iraqi communities when they take over an insurgent-filled area west of Baghdad from the 82nd Airborne Division (search).
"We will arrive culturally aware of the Arab culture and Islamic traditions," said Formica, who commands the 1st Cavalry's 3,000-member 2nd Brigade, which reached Baghdad from Kuwait last week. Formica's brigade is based near Baghdad International Airport.
The unit's soldiers — who have already taken part in raids and combat operations — can be recognized around Baghdad by their distinctive horse head shoulder patch. No 1st Cavalry soldiers had been injured or killed in combat as of Monday morning, Formica said.
But a 1st Armored deputy commander, Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, warned that the incoming division still faces a "very complex insurgency." The adjustments to the division's occupation style are based on guerrilla tactics, said Hertling, whose division has controlled the Iraqi capital since May.
Instead of the 1st Armored's street-chewing tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles (search) — of limited use in urban guerrilla warfare — the 1st Cavalry will rely on smaller armored Humvees (search), which offer protection from ambush without blocking traffic.
"We've changed things based on what the enemy is doing," Hertling said. "We worked with the 1st Cav and the Department of the Army to design the right force. They'll be much better prepared to deal with the changing operations than a combat force that arrived last May."
The Texas-based division has spent the past year studying 1st Armored's experiences in Baghdad, and training itself for "stability operations" rather than the high-intensity conflict the 1st Armored prepared for, Formica said. Incoming troops spent four months training for urban combat, the colonel said.
"We've gone from an armored brigade to a motorized brigade with soldiers who understand how to do operations inside an urban environment," Formica said.
The 1st Cavalry Division will occupy a larger swath of Iraq, stretching beyond the sprawling city of Baghdad to encompass the farmland and outlying towns to the north and west, including the Taji air base, about 20 miles north of Baghdad.
The larger zone will be held with far fewer soldiers. The 1st Cavalry will command a 25,000 to 30,000-member occupation force made up of the division's 18,000 soldiers, along with Military Police, engineers and a reserve unit.
At its peak, the 1st Armored Division and troop contingents under its command numbered 37,000, Hertling said.
Iraqi police and civil defense corps are expected to take over an expanding amount of the capital's policing duties. Hertling said Baghdad's police force, which currently counts 9,000 officers, will be fully staffed with 19,000 officers when 1st Cavalry's yearlong stint ends.
Hertling said 1st Armored is also in discussions with Iraq's Ministry of Transportation to turn over Baghdad International Airport to civilian control. No date has been set for opening the airport to commercial traffic. The airport has been plagued by rebels using shoulder-fired missiles to hit departing aircraft.