Watching the headlines in the American media today, you might think the U.S. military handed over military control in Iraq to Iraqis. There was certainly a ceremony yesterday â€“ a handshake at a military base where Iraqi commanders took control of an Iraqi army division from coalition commanders -- but the real story is in the arithmetic.
Yesterdayâ€™s handover affects the tiny Iraqi navy and air force, with a few hundred folks in each, and a single Iraqi army division, the 8th Army with 5500 to 7000 troops. This means only about five percent the 115,000 regulars in the Iraqi army now take their cues from the Iraqi prime minister. The rest remain firmly under foreign control â€“ and so do the most dangerous areas of the country, such as Baghdad and the volatile Anbar province in the west. The 8th Army operates in the relatively small â€“ and relatively quiet -- Diwaniyeh province in southern Iraq.
US commanders called the handover "an important milestone." It is a step toward Iraq taking control of its own security but there are clearly a lot of miles ahead.