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Marines prepare Iraqi towns for assistance

4 May 2004 |

The stout woman hurried across the hot street yanking at the arm of the little girl walking alongside her.

The woman brought her free hand up to shade her tan wrinkled eyes from the harsh rays of the Middle Eastern sun as she peered up to check the time, then briskly brought it down to adjust her black flowing burqa and continued her hasty march. 

They were on their way to the courthouse.

She needed to conduct important business and the sun was quickly rising to its highest post in the clear Iraqi sky. 

As they reached the dusty steps of the courthouse, they braced themselves for the annoying challenge that laid before them -- hundreds of their townspeople had already began to mob the judicial complex in the center of the town.

Nudging and pushing her way through the huddled masses adorned in black and white and crowned with colorful checkered headdresses, she soon reached the helm of the writhing throng and thrust her covered arm into the fray of already suspended limbs that reached for the tall Marine with the writing tablet. 

Some wanted to report missing relatives.  Some came to ask when electricity would once again pulse through their homes. Some wanted reparations for damages.

But logging complaints was just one item on the Marines' extensive agenda.  What they were really there to do would shape the future of the sleepy town and the Al Muthana Governate of which it is part.

The handful of Marines with 3rd Civil Affairs Group was on a mission: to put the municipality back on its feet.

The team set out to hospitals, schools, water-pumping stations, wastewater management plants and electrical networks to make assessments on what the facilities need to become operational.  Many of the infrastructures and facilities were damaged during the four-week campaign that brought Saddam Hussein and the Ba'th Party out of power. 

"Our focus is to return things to pre-Operation Iraqi Freedom status," said Maj. David Cooper, the 3rd CAG's Reports and Briefings officer. 

Many of the infrastructures, some more than half a century old, went unmanaged and were left in disrepair under the previous regime and were not in good condition even before military operations kicked off in late March.

"The infrastructure currently in place to route water through the province was built in 1950," said SSgt. Dan D. Conners, a Civil Affairs team chief with 4th CAG headquartered out of Washington, DC, which was activated to augment the 3rd CAG.  "It was designed to support 10 towns within the province, but has been rigged to support 45."

Although the facility will likely garner government funding, much more work will be required to bring sufficient amounts of water to the entire governate. 

To date, the governate, which is home to more than 100,000 Iraqi people still experiences frequent rolling blackouts and less than 70 percent of its water pumping stations are operational.

The next step would be for non-government organizations such as UNICEF and The American Chapter of the Red Cross to step in and improve upon the facilities, said Cooper.

The NGOs could only enter the country when it is deemed safe by U.S. government officials.

"We believe that the environment is permissible.  We believe that these areas are ready for organizations to come in and provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people," said Cooper.  "We want to put the schools back in service to offer the people an education - that is something that has been neglected for over 70 years in this country and that could only happen with the support of these NGOs."

"Me sir!  Me sir!" she said, weaving her own voice in the tangled web of noise before the two men.  The shorter, darker of the two took her tattered identification card and read it off.

?Sa?a ? Deh ? Frho ? Abed,? read the shorter man in fragmented English.  The captain dressed in desert camouflage hurriedly jotted the woman?s name down on the pad of paper.

"Room damaged ... gate of house damaged ... three glasses broken ...by bullets ... near street number 51," he turned and said to the Marine after the woman whispered to him in Arabic.

"Shoekrun," she said thanking the translator as she waved and disappeared into the crowd with the girl in tow.

Her concern was noted, and she was satisfied, but there was still a veritable sea of As Samawahns to appease.