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BAGHDAD – As Washington warns of a drawn-out fight against the Islamic State group and the Obama administration looks to send more American troops to help Iraq in the war against the extremists, Baghdad has offered its top war room as a model for a future joint U.S.-Iraqi command headquarters.
Since August, when the U.S.-led airstrikes began, 12 American advisory teams have been based in Iraq, stationed in operations centers in Baghdad and Irbil, the capital of the northern autonomous Kurdish region.
This week, an American advisory mission visited Iraq's western Anbar province to survey the al-Asad air base, formerly the largest coalition base in western Iraq, as the Americans search for potential training locations.
All the while, the Baghdad Operations Command, a war room that is the very nerve center in the battle against the Islamic State group, has become the joint command headquarters for American and Iraqi commanders, Iraqi officers said during a recent tour of the premises by The Associated Press.
It has already proven critical for Iraqi military victories against the Islamic State militants such as the liberation of the town of Beiji, from where Iraqi troops drove out the extremists on Friday.
Once inside the military facility in the heart of Baghdad, which entails passing through several checkpoints and weaving around towering blast walls, the place looks more like a botanical gardens than a military command post, complete with peacocks roaming the grounds and caged exotic birds.
Inside the nerve center, video monitors show surveillance of the four major roads leading in and out of Baghdad — including highways to Fallujah and Mosul, the Sunni militant group's two biggest strongholds. Men in uniform are on the phone with commanders on the front-lines, getting live data from the fight, including casualties, advances, and reinforcement and ammunition requirements.
"We have (U.S.) advisers working with us here in Baghdad and they are heavily involved in our daily planning," said Gen. Abdul Amir al-Shammari, Baghdad Operations Commander. "We're also pursuing more opportunities with them for training, and to develop on training skills our forces had already acquired."
American advisers, in plain clothes, were visible on the premises but declined to comment. The Americans collect the data from Iraqi commanders and incorporate it into U.S.-led coalition's plans for precise airstrikes. Advisers from Great Britain and France, two countries involved in the coalition aerial campaign, drop by for regular meetings.
Similar command centers exist in all of Iraq's 19 provinces. The Baghdad Operations Command, opened in 2007, has served as a hub for all military communications, and formerly served as a coordinating center between Iraqi forces and U.S. troops before they withdrew from Iraq at the end of 2011.
Recently, efforts to retake strategic locations, including the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq, and more recently, the town of Jurf al-Sukhar, south of Baghdad, were coordinated almost entirely from the command centers in Irbil and Baghdad.