SAD’AH, Iraq -- Iraqis living along the Euphrates River near the Syrian border have not hosted a soccer match or any other type of public sporting event in more than three years due to insurgents’ previous control of the area.
Thanks to months of planning by U.S. Marines in this region and security provided by local Iraqi police from Karabilah and Sad’ah, local Iraqis here held a soccer match Aug. 3, 2006 – an event unheard of just months ago, according to the Marines.
Local tribal leaders say the soccer match is “a clear sign” of the changing times.
The soccer match was held on a new soccer field, constructed through local Iraqi contractors with the help of Marines from the 3rd Civil Affairs Group – a team of Marines responsible for spearheading construction projects aimed at boosting the local economy and improving Iraqis’ quality of life.
The money for construction of the field was funded entirely through Iraqi contractors and the work was completed by as many as 1,000 Iraqis – a giant step in boosting the local economy while providing jobs for hundreds who are unemployed in this region, according to Gunnery Sgt. Joseph S. Mallicoat, a team chief with the 3rd Civil Affairs Group.
While Iraqi police in this Iraqi-Syrian border region are already conducting independent security operations on their own, providing security for such a large public event was a first for the police force, which is less than four-months old.
“The Iraqis here never thought something like this could be possible,” said Mallicoat, a 34-year-old from Vancouver, Wash. “An event like this demonstrates the police are ready to move forward and handle more types of security operations in order to make the area safer.”
In several parts of the country insurgents have used public sporting events to harm and kill people. In the city of Hadhra, Iraq, 10 civilians were killed while watching a soccer game on Aug. 4, according to a Coalition Forces press release. Two days earlier in Amil, Iraq, terrorists targeted another soccer field, killing 10 more people, most of whom were young soccer players under the age of 20.
But insurgents didn’t have a chance to strike at the recent soccer match here.
Local policemen, recognizable in their blue uniforms, provided security for spectators and players at the soccer field. The police chief of Karabilah, a city of about 30,000 nestled along the Iraq-Syria border and the Euphrates River, spearheaded security measures during the event, with police officers controlling the brunt of security while the Marines observed and were on hand as back-up.
The Marines of Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment were responsible for providing back-up security with their up-armored Humvees and several dozen ground troops.
But overall, it was local police who handled the operation, without the intervention of U.S. military forces, according to Mallicoat.
The Marines here have been mentoring and advising police forces throughout the region for several months now. Several police stations have opened in the cities here – a first since immediately after the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
During the game’s opening ceremonies, key local leaders from the city council welcomed the more than 500 spectators in attendance. Soccer games in Iraq are only attended by men and children, according to the tribal sheikhs here. Women are not allowed to attend such public events, per Iraqi culture.
Local city leaders and the mayor of Karabilah, Abu Munder, addressed those in attendance, thanking them for their cooperation with Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces in helping drive out the insurgents who just months ago made the area a base of operations.
“By staying unified we are stronger than any foreign fighters that try to take over the area,” said Munder, addressing the crowd.
The Iraqi contractor who completed the construction of the soccer field lauded the work done by nearly 1,000 Iraqi locals who completed the field several weeks ago.
Soccer fans huddled on several bleachers as the game commenced, exploding in hoots and hollers whenever a goal was scored. There were concession stands serving cold drinks, food vendors sold various treats.
The soccer field here in Karabilah is just one of seven soccer fields being completed through the work of Civil Affairs Marines and local Iraqi contractors.
The Marines deemed the Iraqi police-led security operation a milestone in helping the Iraqis become a self-sustaining force as it shows the Iraqi people that they can trust the Iraqi police to keep them safe, according to the Marines here.
Ultimately, the Marines say local police forces will handle security for such public events entirely on their own – with no U.S. presence.
The game featured teams from the near-by towns of Sad’ah and JeribJib. Sad’ah won the match, 4-to-1.
The Marines and Iraqis hope the games will continue to be a regular part of the communities in this once insurgent-heavy region.
Email Cpl. Rosas at firstname.lastname@example.org