As U.S. forces formally hand over control to the Iraqi Security Services, there are questions as to whether the Iraqi army is up to the challenge. Iraqi troops have been training under U.S. guidance since 2004.
There are Iraqi Army soldiers training at a military base south of Baghdad, and it is soldiers like these that six U.S. Advise and Assist Brigades - part of the forces remaining in Iraq - will be helping to train in the coming year.
U.S. advisors will provide training, advice, and what they call "enablers" - such a surveillance equipment and air support. Lieutenant Colonel Joe Corcitto is quick to point out, however, that Iraqi security forces are in full command.
"They have got the mission, they are very good at this," said Corcitto. "We just help bring in the enablers, that are not yet [possessed by] the Iraqi Army."
Iraqi Army 17th Division Commander Ali Faragi is in charge of the South Baghdad area. When asked if his men could handle the recent surge in violence he became defensive.
Faragi said the level of violence has been taken out of proportion, and pointed out that four years ago, there were 100 attacks each week in central Baghdad, while there have been only 33 attacks in the last month.
U.S. commanders agree that rocket and mortar attacks have picked up in the past two months. They said this is because a Shia militia group recently returned from training in Iran.
In defense of the Iraqi Security Forces, U.S. Brigadier General Ralph Baker said concern that the recent wave of violence is related to the U.S. drawdown is unfounded.
"It is simply not the case because the last almost nine months to a year, U.S. forces over here in the Baghdad province have not been actively involved in unilateral offensive operations against insurgents or terrorists. We have been consistently advising and supporting and training the Iraqi forces and it is the Iraqis who have been conducting those operations," said Baker.
Many of these U.S. Advisors are on their 2nd and 3rd tours in an assistance role. They said they have seen dramatic improvement in both the skill and professionalism of the Iraqi army. Private First Class Gaudreau has been teaching marksmanship. "They are doing pretty good sir. They are drastically improving. Yesterday they were all scattered throughout the target."
U.S. commanders here said they are fully confident the Iraqi security forces can handle the insurgents. They point out that many of those involved in the recent bombings have already been apprehended. They acknowledge there is a lot of room for improvement, but stress that building an army is a long-term endeavor.