BAGHDAD: Iraqi and U.S. senior leaders gathered at Camp Iraqi Hero Oct. 14 to commemorate the Iraqi Army’s expanding inventory of M1A1 Abrams tanks, increasing its conventional defensive capabilities.

“This is a significant milestone in the progress the Iraqi Army has made in the last seven years,” said United States Forces-Iraq Deputy Commanding General for Advising and Training, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero.

To date 35 tanks have arrived at the Besmaya Combat Training Center as part of a larger, comprehensive program to modernize Iraq’s conventional defensive capabilities. The package also includes eight M88A2 recovery vehicles, training courses, maintenance training courses, and training ammunition. The remaining 105 tanks and recovery vehicles are scheduled to arrive by December 2011.

“We need to be ready to protect the Iraqi people 24 hours a day, seven days a week; this is our duty,” said Iraq’s Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Abdul Qadir Mohammed Jassim Obeidi al-Mifarji.

The beginning of Operation New Dawn in September marked a critical transition in the American-Iraqi partnership. The remaining 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are now dedicated to the Advising and Training mission, Barbero said. U.S. troops are partnered with Iraqi Security Forces to assist them in strengthening their conventional defensive capabilities.

The U.S. and Iraqi Armies collaboratively developed a training program in beginning in 2009 to help familiarize Iraqi crewmembers with the Abrams tank in anticipation of the Iraqi tanks’ arrival. “What other country in the world would let another country use their tanks for training?” said the defense minister.

“The Iraqi Army has been the fastest growing Army in the world,” Barbero said. “These tanks represent this growth and will help strengthen the Iraqi Army’s ability to protect the sovereignty of Iraq.”

Editor’s note:Alicea Valentin is a member of the Ohio Army National Guard’s 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment attached to the U.S. Forces-Iraq Deputy Commanding General for Advising and Training Public Affairs Office.