WASHINGTON– Iraqi soldiers and police serving in the southern part of their country are performing the lion’s share of security duties, a senior U.S. military officer posted in southern Iraq told reporters today.

“Iraqi security forces are fully in the lead to secure their country and their population,” Army Maj. Gen. Richard C. Nash, commander of Multinational Division South and the 34th Infantry Division, a National Guard unit from Rosemount, Minn., told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference.

Nash said his troops support Iraqi soldiers and police in operations that span across nine provinces in southern Iraq.

The 34th, known as the “Red Bull” division, provides the headquarters for Multinational Division South. Nash, who assumed his duties in May, said his forces partner with Iraqi troops and police through training initiatives and joint security and stability missions in an area that ranges from south of Baghdad, across Najaf to Wasit provinces, and extending to Basra.

Since U.S. combat forces moved out of Iraqi cities and towns on June 30 as part of the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, Nash said, Iraqi police and soldiers have ably taken up security responsibilities across his area of responsibility.

“The Iraqis have stepped up to the challenge and have faced threats head-on,” said Nash, adding that he is impressed with the professionalism exhibited by Iraqi soldiers and police.

However, the 15,000 U.S. forces deployed across his area “still provide security and stability for the people of Iraq,” Nash said, in the form of training up Iraqi soldiers and police and providing Iraqi units with intelligence, logistics and other types of assistance.

Nash said he and his troops are participating in the process to effect a full transition to Iraqi responsibility as part of the “comprehensive partnership between our nations built on mutual interests and mutual respect.”

The Army’s 10th Mountain Division, Nash recalled, was responsible for security and stability duty in southern Iraq prior to the arrival of the 34th Infantry Division. Nash credited the 10th division’s soldiers for establishing a good two-way partnership with Iraqi security forces.

“There was very little transition when the 34th assumed responsibility from the 10th here in the south,” Nash said. The relationships and between U.S. and Iraqi security forces, he added, “had already been built.”

Meanwhile, the partnership between U.S. and Iraqi security forces “is still going on,” Nash said, adding: “Everything that we do is in support of the Iraqis.”

The Iraqi security forces take their mission very seriously, Nash said, noting that the Iraqi soldiers and police operating in his area “take a vested interest in our security, as well.” The Iraqis, he said, helped to establish increased force-protection measures after an insurgent rocket attack at a coalition base near Basra two weeks ago killed three U.S. troops. The Iraqis, he said, also quickly established a security dragnet that snared the alleged perpetrators.

“The Iraqi security forces immediately were looking at all of their human intelligence that they can gather,” Nash said. “And they were able to, within in a day or two, capture three individuals of a network” that was believed to be involved in the attack.

“The people feel very well secure with their Iraqi security forces, the police and the army,” Nash said. Local citizens, he said, are using “tip” lines to the Iraqi police that lead to the capture of insurgents.

Iraqi police and soldiers in southern Iraq, Nash said, are “proud of how far they’ve come” in assuming security responsibilities. Yet, he added, the Iraqi troops and constabulary also realize that they need more training.

Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces in southern Iraq continue to improve, as they maintain patrols, uncover and seize insurgent weapons caches, and perform other vital population-protection duties.

“I see them at checkpoints and doing a very professional job and a very courteous job to the local Iraqis,” Nash said. “And so, I feel very good that they’re well on their way of being a professional force – both the army and the police.”

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