US Marines, rapid strike forces who helped seize Baghdad, will begin handing control of their part of the city to the US Army on Saturday, in a sign the fighting phase of operations in the Iraqi capital is over.
"We're seen as 'kick in the door' kind of guys. We're the enablers for the
Army to do what they do," Major John Schaar, of US Marine Regimental Combat Team Seven, currently deployed in eastern Baghdad, said on Friday.
The Marine Corp is a distinct organisation from the US Army, designed primarily as a vanguard strike force. The much larger army has more resources to deal with the reconstruction and policing role required in the capital.
Baghdad is currently divided between Marines who control the capital east of the river Tigris, and Army units occupying the western half. The handover will bring the city under the control of a single commander.
Marines said they would begin heading to cities in southern Iraq on Saturday to take over from army units now occupying the towns. They hope to complete the move within about a week.
Army units stationed on the western side of the Tigris will move into areas vacated by Marines.
"We can do anything, but we're not designed for a long-term occupation, nation building type force," Shaar said.
Marines say the move is part of a plan to reorganise the overall pattern of US forces in Iraq.
Under the scheme, Marines will control Iraq south of Baghdad, while the Army's Third Infantry Division, part of Fifth Corps, will occupy the capital. The Army's Fourth Infantry Division will occupy northern Iraq.