General: U.S. to hand over Anbar to Iraqis in March

A sweet announcement on a bittersweet anniversary with today’s Iraq news dominated by a bitter report about the U.S. turning in frustration to “Iraqi solutions” that may not be solutions at all. There’s been progress in other parts of Iraq, of course (Baghdad foremost among them) but nowhere as much as in Anbar. That’s where Al Qaeda’s back was broken before it crawled off to Diyala and that’s where the proof of a flourishing multisectarian Iraqi society will be found, if the Sunnis and the Shiite government can and ever do settle their differences peacefully. A year ago it was unimaginable; congratulations to Gen. Petraeus.

Iraq’s western province of Anbar, origin of the Sunni Arab insurgency that arose in the early months of U.S. occupation, will be returned to Iraqi control in March, a senior U.S. general said Thursday…

Marine Maj. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin, commander of the roughly 35,000 Marine and Army forces in Anbar, said levels of violence have dropped so significantly — coupled with the growth and development of Iraqi security forces in the province — that Anbar is ready to be handed back to the Iraqis.

He said in a telephone interview that a provincial security committee under Anbar’s governor has been established and has rehearsed procedures for handling any security crisis that might develop.

Under a plan accepted by the Iraqi government as well as the top two American authorities in Iraq — Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus — the U.S. military will transfer control of Anbar to provincial authorities in March, followed by a ceremony in April, Gaskin said…

Visiting Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi, appearing with Gates, also mentioned the turnaround in Anbar. He asserted that the situation has improved to the point where Iraqi forces are able to fight on their own, although that is a view not shared by U.S. commanders.

Are the Iraqis ready? They’re more ready than they were.