Pa. Guard troops take control of area in Iraq

WASHINGTON — Thousands of troops from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard assumed control this week of a large swath of Iraq north of Baghdad.

Col. Marc Ferraro, commander of the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, said in a conference call Wednesday with reporters that the Iraqis have shown a willingness to work with the troops. But he also said the area remains dangerous.

In the month since more than 4,000 troops from armories across Pennsylvania have arrived, one soldier has been killed and two have been seriously injured.

The troops entered Iraq in a time of political transition — just weeks after Barack Obama assumed the presidency. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Obama is expected to order all U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq by August 2010.

Ferraro said the Iraqis seem to understand they need the troops’ help.

“They know we are going to leave, and right now we’re providing assistance in areas they are not able to provide themselves because they just don’t have the capacity to do it yet,” he said.

Ferraro said the Iraqis will likely have mixed feelings when the troops pull out.

“I think right now, it’s a complementary partnership because they understand we’re here to assist,” Ferraro said. “They understand what we bring to the table.”

On Tuesday, Ferraro took command of the mostly rural, 900-square-mile region based in Taji, Iraq. He said the soldiers’ jobs vary from working to improve electrical power in the area to assisting Iraqi soldiers in military operations.