Iraqi troops prepare to protect their own country

Updated: 2011-12-12 09:22


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CAMP COS KALSU, Iraq - Breezing Iraq's dusty desert wind, the US army's 1st Cavalry Division handed over their Camp Cos Kalsu to the Iraqi authorities on Sunday.

"We are going to protect our own country and we don't need foreign help any more," a 21-year-old Iraqi army private Muslim Abbas told Xinhua at the transfer ceremony, which was attended by scores of US and Iraqi army officers.

Housain al-Saadi, a representative of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and Major William Navaro from the 1st Cavalry signed the transfer documents and shook hands with big smile on their faces.

After raising the Iraqi national flag inside the merely 200- square-meter meeting room, Private Abbas and his squad jazzed up literally on the spot, dancing and singing folk songs to celebrate, while US troops were folding the US flag carefully.

The handover lasted about 30 minutes and the base which used to house a whole US division is returned to Iraqi hands.

Only three US bases await for transfer ahead of the December 31 US troop pullout deadline and some 6,000 US soldiers remain in the Iraqi territory.

At the camp's dinning hall, commandos with red Berets on head from the Iraqi army's 8th Division, as well as outgoing US cavalry rangers, were seen sipping US coffee.

A 24-year-old US sergeant Zeke Farley said "I am not saying I dislike Iraq, but I feel happy to go home."

This was Farley's first foreign assignment, who has participated in airborne training and ranger school.

"Rangers lead the way," the conversation with Farley ended jubilantly with the US elite force's well-known code.

Lt. Col. Michael Brough opened his wallet and showed a family photo. Two of his children were adopted from China and Ethiopia.

"Kids are grown up enough to worry about my safety. The eldest son at 12, always says, Daddy, be careful," said Brough.

Slim and with a little mustache, 42-year-old Brough has served in the army for 18 years, as this is his second assignment in Iraq, which started from this July.

"I don't know how to explain to the children why this (the war) happened, but sometimes it just happened," said the officer.

Near the entrance of the camp, along muddy blast walls, empty tents and sandbags, a long US convoy was waiting for departure.

Troops were joking and laughing, some of whom with baseball bat in hand and cigars in the mouth.

An Iraqi military convoy was just moving in, with soldiers on the truck cheering and posing the "V" gestures.

Set up in May 2003, two months later than the start of the Iraq War, Cos Kalsu had housed the New York Army National Guard, US Army's 2nd, 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions and the 1st Cavalry Division.

As many experts are expressing concerns over the future security situation in Iraq in the wake of the US troop exit, new bloodshed might be seen by Iraq's 8th Division.

For the 1st Cavalry, the way home is hardly safe, as they have to take a 12-hour road trip through the hostile Sunni triangle leading to the Kuwaiti border.

A Cavalry officer, on condition of anonymity, told Xinhua that the division is to assign scouts 12 hours ahead of the start of the trip to secure the route.

Money would be paid to the tribes along the Iraq-Kuwait highway in return for ceasefire, said the source.

"We wish to spend the Christmas home," said Lt. Col. Jason Heyes, one of the battalion commanders of the Cavalry.

"All Americans (at Cos Kalsu) are leaving before Christmas," said the officers from Iraq's 8th Division.