WASHINGTON, June 1, 2009 – The United States continues to hand over authority to Iraqis in keeping with the terms of an agreement between Washington and Baghdad that took effect Jan. 1. American forces in Iraq last week transferred responsibility of a security base manned by coalition and Iraqi personnel and a vehicle maintenance center.

“The U.S. forces leaving this base are giving the opportunity to the Iraqi forces to take their place and to take complete control of this base, which indicates a new era for the Iraqi armed forces,” Iraqi Army Lt. Col. Majid said in a May 28 transfer-of-power signing.

During the ceremony, the U.S. 2nd Battalion of the 20th Field Artillery Regiment ceded control of Joint Security Station Mutanabe in Iraq’s Wasit province, one of the 13 provinces under Iraqi control.

The broad security deal stipulates that all of Iraq’s 18 provinces be under national authority and all U.S. combat brigades withdraw from Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010. U.S. forces are required to leave major Iraqi cities by the end of this month.

Army Lt. Col. Timothy Bush, the battalion commander, signaled the U.S. troops’ solidarity with their Iraqi counterparts amid the handoff.

“We are leaving the [joint security station] in accordance with the security agreement, but we will never step away from our friends, and we will stand shoulder to shoulder with you against our common enemies,” Bush said. The battalion is slated to hand over two other stations this month.

At Camp Taji a day earlier, the U.S. command responsible for training Iraqi security forces handed over to the Iraqi army an armored-vehicle maintenance center. The center will house and maintain the Badger, a 10-person light armored vehicle that features an armored hull for protection against mines, explosive devices and small-arms fire. Iraqi security forces boast a fleet of nearly 500 Badgers.

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Steven Salazar, commanding general of the Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq Advisory Training Team, addressed an audience at the May 27 ceremony.

“You should be proud today,” Salazar said. “This is a very capable vehicle. But with a great gift comes great responsibility. You must take care and maintain these vehicles.”

Iraqi army Staff Maj. Gen. Muniem, deputy chief of staff for electrical mechanized engineering, expressed confidence in his staff’s ability to take the reins of the center.

“We are ready to take care of this facility,” he said. “We will repair and maintain our vehicles and keep them running strong.”

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