FORWARD OPERATING BASE CONSTITUTION: US and Iraqi military police slowly comb a strip of dirt road west of Baghdad, looking for tell-tale signs of hidden improvised explosive devices.
But while the signs are there, the danger is not, at least on this road: it runs through the Constitution military base and the "IEDs" have been planted by US troops as part of a training exercise.
Outside the base, where the IEDs are real, the Iraqi military police and the rest of the country’s 6th Division — responsible for still-volatile areas from the west of Baghdad province to parts of the capital — will increasingly be operating alone as US forces draw down.
"We will go from advise, assist and partner to advise, assist and train," said US Army Lieutenant Colonel Robert Rooker, chief of an advisory Stability Transition Team paired with the 6th Division.
"We will continue to conduct limited partnerships for special skill sets like (explosive ordnance disposal) and military intelligence, but unit partnerships will no longer occur."
Teams such as Rooker’s, which is on the same base as 6th Division headquarters, will continue advising and training Iraqi forces following the drawdown of US troops in the country to a cap of 50,000 by September 1.
The drawdown will mean that far fewer US troops will be working with the division than in the past.
The soon-to-depart 4th Stryker Brigade had "an estimated 2,000 troops" working with the 6th Division, said Captain Christopher Ophardt, a brigade spokesman.
After its withdrawal, that number will fall to "130 total personnel … in direct partnership" with the division, according to Rooker, or around 700 including support troops, Ophardt said.
There has also been a "roughly a 50 percent reduction in (US) air power — so that’s half as many air weapons teams that (the Iraqis) can request," Rooker said.
The reduction in available US forces will require additional planning by the Iraqi army: "We’ve got to teach them that they’ve got to plan — (US assets are) just not available all the time any more," said Rooker.
First Lieutenant Saad Hamza, commander of the Iraqi military police who were training at FOB Constitution, expressed confidence that local forces are ready to go it alone, saying, "We can handle it by ourselves."
The division’s commanding general declined to be interviewed for this article.
Rooker agreed with Hamza that the 6th Division is ready: "I would say, all in all, they’re ready — they’re ready to take over," he said.
"The basic, rudimentary infantry tasks and skills, the counter-insurgency tasks and skills, they’re very proficient," Rooker said.
"They’re (also) proficient, at a rudimentary level, with just about every aspect of logistics except the maintenance," he said.
Speaking about the Iraqi army in general, one US infantryman at Constitution, on his second tour in Iraq, was more pessimistic in his assessment.
"They are by far not to the standard that I would say the military needs to be," he said. But "I do believe they’ve come a long way."
Despite the drastic decrease in the number of troops working directly with the 6th Division, Rooker’s team will still be able to facilitate training exercises by requesting assistance from other units, or "with our dedicated infantry company," he said.
Going forward, training will focus on three main areas, Rooker said.
The first is "intelligence gathering and intelligence fusion."
Iraqi intelligence is mainly based on "human intelligence," such as tips from citizens, Rooker said.
"What we’re trying to do is expand the rest of their intelligence capabilities to match their human intelligence, where they can … match it against aerial photography and other types of intelligence and paint an entire picture."
Training will also focus on "counter-insurgency, targeted strike-force operations … where you limit the collateral damage, you go after the bad guys and you just pull them out surgically, instead of having to clear an entire block to get what you need."
"The third thing we’re training them to do is civil capacity and community outreaches," he said.
"We’ll go in and say (to an Iraqi officer): ‘Hey sayadi (sir), we’ve got some issues in this neighborhood; what do you want to do?’ He says, ‘Well, I’ll go in, we’ll toss the (neighborhood) and we’ll root out the bad guys.’"
"Well, why don’t we think about doing a civil capacity — they need food in here … Why don’t you drop 500 bundles of food for the families … you’ll be surprised, once you do that, what they tell you."
"We’ve been having a lot of success in doing that," he said.
Large, expensive projects, Rooker said, are not always the best option.
"We’ll get more benefit out of a $5,000 civil capacity … operation than we ever would building a hospital," he said.