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Coalition Forces build bridge to boost local Iraqi economy

23 Jul 2006 | Cpl. Antonio Rosas

Thousands of Iraqis from Euphrates River villages near the Iraq-Syria border now have access to the cities of Husaybah and Karabilah, thanks to a new – albeit temporary – bridge constructed by Coalition Forces recently.

The bridge will serve to bolster the economy in cities along the border as well as improve security in the region, according to Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.

The new bridge is a temporary floating bridge normally used by U.S. military forces to provide a temporary solution to move convoys across rivers.

“Now the Iraqis who live north of the Euphrates River can contribute to the economy here by obtaining necessities at the local markets and get medical care from the hospital in Husaybah,” said Marano. “The building of this bridge is a milestone in the progress of Coalition Forces.

Nearly 30 regional sheikhs attended the July 23, 2006, ribbon-cutting ceremony, accompanied by city officials from neighboring towns and cities as well as Iraqi Security Force commanders.

“Now that the bridge is in place we can expect the added traffic to improve the business in the shops in Karabilah and Husaybah,” said Tekan Farfan Tekan, the mayor of Husaybah - a city of about 50,000 on the Iraq-Syria border. “I want to thank the Marines, the Army, (and) the Iraqi Security Forces for making this day possible.”

Before the bridge was erected, Iraqis who live north of the Euphrates River here had to pay to cross the river in crudely-built canoes. Locals had to hike nearly a mile to and from the river and then obtain a ride from a taxi to shop in the cities of Husaybah or Karabilah.

This is nearly impossible for the elderly and sick, according to several Iraqi fishermen who provide the ferry service to locals for a fee.

“It is hard for many people to make this trip and many people don’t have the extra money to pay for the ride,” said a local fisherman, through an interpreter.

The fisherman said he has ferried people across the river for no charge since many locals simply can’t afford the cost of crossing the river by boat.

The new bridge replaced an older bridge which was destroyed more than a year ago during combat operations. U.S. soldiers from the Fort Hood, Texas-based 74th Engineer Multi-Role Bridge Company removed the remains of the old bridge and put together the new one.

“The security in this region has changed for the better,” Al Anbar Province Governor Maamoon Sami Rasheed al-Awani told local leaders here at a meeting earlier this month. “Without the work the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police are doing here, we would not be able to move forward with construction projects.”

Since their arrival in early March, the Marines say they have seen a decrease in enemy activity in the region – a result of a consistent U.S. and Iraqi military presence and several new Iraqi police stations in the cities, with more than 600 Iraqi police officers now on the job.

Iraqi soldiers provided security during the month-long construction of the temporary bridge - another step closer for Iraqi Security Forces to relieve U.S. forces of security operations in the Province.

Still, the newly-constructed bridge was the target of several foiled improvised explosive device attacks by insurgents recently.

U.S. forces discovered the first IED before it went off.

In a separate IED attack, a roadside bomb detonated near a convoy of U.S. military engineers while they were on their way to the bridge’s construction site.

The bomb caused no damage to the bridge, or the engineers.

Security for the bridge will remain in the hands of Iraqi Security Forces. Nearby along the river, Marines maintain an outpost, or battle position, alongside Iraqi soldiers. On the north side of the river, an Iraqi police station recently opened, marking another milestone for local Iraqi Security Forces in becoming a self-sustaining force.

“It’s important that the Iraqi soldiers continue to provide security at the bridge alongside Marines because the locals will see that it’s the Iraqis who are beginning to take the lead in providing security for their own people,” said Capt. John W. Black, commanding officer of Weapons Company – the Marines responsible for working with the Iraqi Security Forces in the area near the bridge.

The new bridge will also help with the distribution of fuel shipment to villages north of the river, according to Marano. Fuel distribution is another problem Iraqis here face and Marano feels the bridge will help get the fuel where it’s needed.

“The placement of this bridge will solve some problems until the permanent bridge can be replaced,” said Marano. “The Iraqis who live north of the river can now get medical care in the city.”

The completion of the bridge is just one example of the success of Coalition Forces and Iraqi Security Forces working together to improve the overall security in the area, allowing future construction projects to take place, said Marano.

The reconstruction of another, more permanent bridge is scheduled for construction later this fall, according to Marine officials here. That bridge’s construction is at the top of Marano’s priority list, as local tribal leaders have rallied for its re-construction since the southern California-based battalion arrived here nearly five months ago, he said.

“The tribal leaders were always bringing it up at monthly regional council meetings and it was one of the most important projects for the Marines, next to improving the security in the region,” said Marano, a Philadelphia native.

Email Cpl. Rosas at rosasa@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil