When the new U.S.-Iraq security pact goes into effect Jan. 1, U.S. forces will have to abide by a new set of rules that includes getting Iraqi approval for combat operations. By June, American combat troops will have to withdraw from Iraqi cities.
As that American drawdown begins, Iraqi forces will also have to make some major adjustments.
U.S. Forces Already Stepping Back
On a recent afternoon, U.S. soldiers with the 118th Infantry in the Baghdad neighborhood of Hurriyah are about to head out on a foot patrol with the Iraqi Army. Sgt. 1st Class Eric Ryder pointedly asks an Iraqi army officer to help plan the operation. The officer gives a vague answer, and Ryder runs through the American objectives of the patrol.
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. military has funded, trained and worked with the Iraqi security forces. But American troops have always called the shots. The U.S. military in Iraq gathered its own intelligence, planned its own operations and took the Iraqi army or police along only for training, granting them little responsibility.
But on Jan. 1, that will finally legally change, putting the Iraqis in charge of their country's security.
Ryder says that for the past month, U.S. forces in Hurriyah have been operating as if the security agreement between Iraq and the United States had already gone into effect.
"Right now, we're in the stages of doing more of an overwatch and helping them so they can lead their own patrols throughout their sectors," he says, "and we're there for guidance and also support."
'It's A Big Problem If The Americans Leave'
For some of the Iraqis, though, the new set of responsibilities is worrying.
After the patrol, Iraqi army officer Lt. Ahmad Hassan sits down with Ryder. Hassan is upset and asks the American for help finding spare parts for his broken-down Humvees. He has asked Iraq's Defense Ministry but was told there is no money for repairs. He says officials told him to find what he needs on the black market.
"Whatever happens to our vehicle, we collect money among ourselves to fix it. We take it to civilian mechanics," Hassan says. "It's a big problem if the Americans leave. You see this office? It is the Americans who have given us everything to furnish it and make it functional. If it was up to the Iraqi government, we would get nothing."
Ryder responds that the Americans will no longer be able to give them what they need.
Hassan complains that none of their vehicles work right now. If an attack happened somewhere in Hurriyah, they would have to walk there, he says.
Local Governments Rely On U.S., Too
And it's not only the Iraqi military that relies on the Americans. The district government often turns to them for matters large and small.
A district council member asks Capt. Nathan Williams, the 118th Infantry company commander, to deal with the Hurriyah neighborhood's feral dog population.
"When that happens from now on, we are going to be trying to direct them to either the local government or the security forces to look into instead of us. We'll definitely be there to help assist and advise, but as far as, unilaterally, us taking care of the situation, we are trying to get away from that at this point," Williams says.
Officer: Iraqis Must Grow More Self-Reliant
Security is better in Hurriyah now. There hasn't been an attack against U.S. forces in a month, and there's been almost no sectarian violence.
Still, Williams says he continues to reassure the Iraqis that despite a June 1 deadline for Americans to withdraw from the center of Iraqi cities, joint security stations like the one in Hurriyah, where Iraqis and Americans both live, will likely remain.
"It's not like we are going to be here one day and the next day we are not going to be here," he says.
But Williams acknowledges that things have changed. The Iraqis will have to become more self-reliant, he says.