By Spc. Lee Elder, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
KIRKUSH, Iraq (July 3, 2006) – The Iraqi Army’s 5th Division officially took charge of military operations in northern Iraq’s Diyala Province from Coalition Forces during a ceremony held here today.
The division’s colors were unveiled and presented to its commander, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Klepos Awad Majhool al-Kozaee by British Maj. Gen. Peter Everson, who serves as deputy commanding general, Multi-National Corps-Iraq. The division earned its colors after being validated as a viable fighting force by the 101st Airborne Division.
“I’d like to say that this division will be successful because it is composed of the full spectrum of Iraqi people,” Ahmed said. “It represents the hand of the government that carries the weapon and the olive branch at the same time.”
The “Hadeed” Division was formed in April 2004 and was fully operational in February 2005. It consists of a headquarters and three brigades.
Ahmed promised his division would be “the strong hand of the Iraqi people in defeating the insurgency.” He pledged to remain with the division as their “brother, teacher and commander.”
Everson, a London native, said the 5th Division was the first Iraqi Army division in the Multi-National Division North validated to conduct independent combat operations. It is only the fourth division to attain that status.
“Gen. Ahmed’s soldiers have worked hard for the day that this division would be prepared to assume responsibility for this large, complex province,” Everson said. “And that day has come.”
Diyala Province spans from the eastern edge of Baghdad to the Iranian border and covers 70,000 square miles. It is home to more than 1.7 million Iraqis.
One of the division’s units, its 1st Brigade, was validated in April. It has maintained security for the eastern part of the province since then.
Validation changes the roles of both Iraqi and Coalition forces. Now that it has been validated, the division will assume full responsibility for the province while Coalition forces will take on a secondary support role.
Col. William Gothard, an Army Reserve Soldier with the Richmond, Va.-based 80th Division, commands the Military Transition Team in charge of training the division. His unit members work and live with their Iraqi Army counterparts preparing them for this day.
“They take the lead now,” Gothard said. “They conduct combat operations on their own with us providing support where they request it.”
Gothard said the walk toward validation has not been an easy one. In addition to training tasks, the division’s soldiers have seen action in campaigns not only in Diyala, but also in neighboring areas like Fallajah, Samarra and Baghdad as well.
“The greatest challenge in the 5th Division has been personnel strength,” Gothard said. “Unlike many divisions, the 5th Division is not native to Diyala Province, and so the Soldiers of this division come from many different areas of Iraq.
“It’s been difficult to build the troop strength which is really necessary to beat back an insurgency.”
Gothard works as a Department of the Army civilian with U.S. Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. He said his teams would remain in place supporting Iraqi forces, but combat operations here would have a decided Iraqi face.
“The actual combat forces will continue to show less of a role in the day-to-day combat operations as the Iraqis assume that responsibility,” Gothard said.
Both Ahmed and Everson praised the efforts of U.S. and Coalition forces to train their Iraqi counterparts. A moment of silence was observed for both the Coalition and Iraqi forces who have lost their lives in combat operations with the division.
“I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to my brothers in the Coalition forces – the 101st Airborne Division; 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division; and all of our other friends,” Ahmed said.
The ceremony featured the traditional pass and review as the division’s Soldiers marched past the reviewing stand. Elements of all of the division’s units marched and were supported by both U.S. and Iraqi Army bands playing both the U.S. and Iraqi national anthems.
The crowd of Iraqi Soldiers cheered as a team formed a pyramid and a lone Soldier climbed to its zenith. Cheers went out as the Soldier waved the Iraqi flag in mid air.