WASHINGTON, June 24, 2009 – Iraqi and U.S. forces continued to make strides toward meeting the terms of the U.S.-Iraq security agreement in recent days with the transfer of a joint security station to Iraqi control and meetings that offered provincial leaders and female business owners an opportunity to pave the road ahead.
The security agreement calls for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraqi cities by June 30 and all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by 2011.
In Wasit province, U.S. forces handed over the responsibility of Joint Security Station Salaam, near Numaniyah, to the Iraqi army June 20.
"We celebrate today to receive the JSS in Numaniyah in accordance with the security agreement between Iraq and the American government," said Brig. Gen. Abed Gabr Mazloum, 32nd Iraqi Army Brigade commander.
The ceremony marked the turnover of the last security station in the province where soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 20th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Fires Brigade, worked in partnership with Iraqi security forces. The soldiers of the battalion’s Battery A have controlled the station since August.
"I am proud of Alpha 2-20 for their partnership with both the Iraqi police and Iraqi army while they were here at JSS Salaam. You have prepared your [Iraqi security forces] brothers well," said Army Col. Dick Francey, 41st Fires Brigade commander.
Two other facilities in Wasit province will be handed over to Iraqi security forces this month -- JSS Aziziyah and Combat Outpost Summers.
Elsewhere, Army Col. Butch Kievenaar, commander of the 4th Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, met with sheiks from Basra province June 16 at the province’s Basra Operations Center. The meeting focused on the security agreement and the way ahead. The commander touched on the closure of several bases, and how the closures pertain to the June 30 deadline.
"We are turning over this month two locations. They both will be handed over to the police before the end of the month," he said. Two other locations will continue to have a U.S. presence to train Iraqi security forces at the request of provincial leaders, he said.
The commander also highlighted the brigade's civic action initiatives aimed at improving quality of life. "Currently, we have 103 projects ongoing in the city of Basra,” he noted.
The sheiks raised issues concerning agriculture, power and water distribution, and the continuation of projects once U.S. forces depart. Kievenaar said he is determined to keep the lines of communication open with the sheiks.
"What we are trying to do is open up communications between all of the tribal leaders and our forces so that there are no secrets and we are sharing information to provide an avenue to resolve any issues," he explained.
The security agreement also took center stage at a June 20 women’s business seminar in Baghdad, coordinated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division. About 30 Iraqi businesswomen attended the half-day event, part of a continuing series of meetings under the Women's Advocate Initiative.
"Our goal is to encourage and support Iraqi businesswomen to be more involved in the execution and management of construction and in nonconstruction projects," Richard Hancock, division’s director of programs, told the audience.
The focus of the initiative was changed from construction projects to ongoing sustainment as building activities wind down in accordance with the security agreement, division officials said.
Andy Scharein, a program manager in the division’s operations and maintenance section, encouraged the audience with the potential value of sustainment contracts.
"Normally, [operations and maintenance] is where a lot of money can be made, because a construction project may last a year and a half while building a facility, but for 10, 20 or 30 years or more, that facility will need to be cared for," Scharein said. "And 5 to 10 percent of what that facility cost is generally what we think it takes to take care of it. So, over time, it [means] stable employment and good money to be able to do these kinds of efforts."
Mohamad Husam, deputy program manager for the division’s operations, maintenance and sustainment program, presented a history of the division’s experience with 133 primary health care centers constructed across Iraq, and how maintaining them could mean business opportunities for Iraqi women. To jump-start that process, the division has committed to performing maintenance on 17 of the completed primary health care centers, which could be good news for women-owned businesses.
Four Iraqi businesswomen briefed the audience about the success of their projects arranged through division contracts. Hancock noted these projects were operations, maintenance and capacity development work for primary health care centers.
"In fact, 50 percent of contracts for primary health care facilities were won by women-owned businesses," Hancock said.
The women's business program began in 2005, and so far has directed $500 million to Iraqi businesswomen who perform service or construction contracts for various coalition forces and agencies operating in the country.
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Joe Thompson of the 41st Fires Brigade, Army Staff Sgt. Carlos M. Burger II of the 4th Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team and Rick Haverinen of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division contributed to this report.)