U.S. to shift control of Baghdad to Iraqi forces


BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S.-led occupation plans to shift control of this war-stricken city center to Iraqi forces soon and move most American troops to the capital's perimeter, military officials said yesterday.

"Unless you give them a chance to practice their skills to go out there and face things on their own, then you never know what they can do," said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who was visiting Baghdad for the third time since the war began. "But clearly it's better for us if they are on the front lines, and it's better for them, and it's better for their country."

U.S. commanders and officials with the U.S.-led civilian administration outlined their plans to a small group of reporters accompanying Wolfowitz, a key architect of the Iraq war. It was Wolfowitz's first visit to the capital since Oct. 26, when insurgents fired rockets at the Al Rashid Hotel, where he was staying.

Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the top U.S. commander in Baghdad, said the shift to the Iraqi military would begin during the rotation of 250,000 U.S. troops in the next few months.

The United States will reduce the number of U.S. operating bases in Baghdad and move most to the outskirts before the 1st Armored Division hands over security in April to the incoming 1st Cavalry Division.

U.S. troop numbers are expected to remain near their current level, officials said.

The shifting of overall control of the capital is likely to take months. Military strategists estimate that Baghdad needs 19,000 Iraqi police officers. It now has 8,000, and U.S. forces are training as many as 2,000 each month in Baghdad and in Jordan.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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