Iraqi Force May Take Hold in Tikrit in Next Year Robert Siegel talks with Lt. Col. Mark Edmonds, Army Deputy Brigade Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne, about ongoing operations in the Iraqi city of Tikrit. Edmonds says that despite the fact that improvised explosive devices are still found daily, the city is much safer now than it had been. He added that he expects the Iraqi army to operate independently within the province within the next year.

Iraqi Force May Take Hold in Tikrit in Next Year

Iraqi Force May Take Hold in Tikrit in Next Year

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Robert Siegel talks with Lt. Col. Mark Edmonds, Army Deputy Brigade Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne, about ongoing operations in the Iraqi city of Tikrit. Edmonds says that despite the fact that improvised explosive devices are still found daily, the city is much safer now than it had been. He added that he expects the Iraqi army to operate independently within the province within the next year.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

To Iraq now and one city in what's known as the Sunni triangle, a place that's seen its share of violence.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Joining me now to talk about the situation in Tikrit in Iraq is Lieutenant Colonel Mark Edmonds. He's the Deputy Brigade Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne. Welcome to the program, Lieutenant Colonel Edmonds.

Lieutenant Colonel MARK EDMONDS (U.S. Army): Thank you.

SIEGEL: Tikrit is famously the hometown of Saddam Hussein, a few hours north of Baghdad. Today, how safe is Tikrit?

Lieutenant Colonel EDMONDS: We have some violence, but Tikrit is fairly safe. As you look out across the environment, you see the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police taking more of a lead role establishing security.

SIEGEL: Would you say it's secure enough so that our reporter in Baghdad could go there and walk around?

Lieutenant Colonel EDMONDS: Absolutely, and we would be happy to welcome him in and take him downtown. Of course, we still take some precautions, as you've seen on television, I'm sure. We travel in up-armored vehicles and we wear body armor when we move around the streets. All of our soldiers do that and anybody that's out there does it, because there is still a level of violence that if somebody wanted to do you harm, they certainly could.

SIEGEL: But what do you say to a listener who would react to that by saying that anyplace where you've got to wear armor if you're going out into downtown, that's not very secure by the standards of peace.

Lieutenant Colonel EDMONDS: And I would tell you that by American standards it doesn't seem that secure. We certainly do not wear body armor as we walk down the streets of our towns, at least we hope we don't have to.

But I would tell you that compared to Iraq of 2003, it is much safer and I think the Iraqi citizens are getting tired of seeing their fellow countrymen being killed and so we see the citizens taking a greater stand now in securing their own areas and giving the Iraqi Army and the coalition forces information to stop the people that are doing this to them.

SIEGEL: One civilian familiar with the situation in Tikrit has told me indirectly that in Tikrit about now one would expect to find, say, four or five improvised explosive devices a day. Does that square with your sense of things and what is the trend? Is that better than it was a few months ago, or worse?

Lieutenant Colonel EDMONDS: That sounds about right. Some days are higher, some days are lower. Those are primarily on Highway 1, which is the main route that runs through the province. The number of IEDs is slightly lower than it was six months ago, but I will tell you we're seeing a slight increase over the past couple of weeks.

SIEGEL: What is your sense of timetable? You've been able to move U.S. forces, as I understand it, from out of the center of Tikrit but you're right near, you're just outside the town now. Can you foresee a time from what you're seeing in the way of progress in training Iraqi forces that is months away where the Iraqis could do it on their own without such a large U.S. presence nearby? Or are we talking years away from them being able to do that?

Lieutenant Colonel EDMONDS: Well, I think critical to this is the activation of the Iraqi ground forces command and the 4th Iraqi Division, which is the unit in this area, fell under that command on the 18th of September.

Really what that means is it's what we call Iraqi in the lead, so all operations that are done now are planned and led by Iraqi army units with our assistance in planning and then our support during the operations. We do not lead anymore operations.

As far as the timetable my assessment is that within this next year, 2007, within Tikrit and within Solidan Province, the Iraqi Army will be able to operate independently and on their own throughout the province.

NORRIS: That's Army Lieutenant Colonel Mark Edmonds, Deputy Brigade Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne. We spoke to him from Tikrit.

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