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Marine, Iraqi leaders ready to push ahead toward Iraq's future

21 May 2004 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Leaders of the 1st Marine Division, the Fallujah Brigade and Fallujah's mayor said Thursday that the city is ready for rebuilding.

"I've got my plan and by God, come hell or high water, I'm just going to execute that plan no matter what," said Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division.  "Our end state was all along, if you ask the Marines, was 'no better friend, no worse enemy.'  We're going to find a way to turn Iraq back over to the decent people of Iraq."

Mattis, along with Iraqi Gen. Mohammed Latif, commander of the Fallujah Brigade, which is assuming security responsibilities from Marines, and Fallujah's Mayor Muhammed Ibrahim Al-Juraissey, addressed international press in Fallujah yesterday.  They touted the success of the transition from street battles to street cleaning and said the future of Fallujah is bright.

Already, four Iraqi contractors are employing more than 700 Fallujans in separate zones in the city for clean-up and restoration after the fighting.  Another three contractors will begin work soon, bringing the total cost of the Coalition-led project to $3 million.

"For example, today broke ground on a new hospital wing," Mattis explained.  "We got started on that.  General Latif just talked to us about a youth center and computers so they can get on the Internet, playground equipment for little kids.  So we're going to continue those kinds of projects, things we would have been doing six months ago had there not been someone fighting here."

Fallujah's mayor said the city's most respected authorities, religious clerics, issued written statements condemning the attacks on the four contractors killed in late March. 

"The religious leaders came up with a fatwah... and this fatwah denounced the mutilation of the bodies of anyone," Juraissey said.  "Just like with any other religion, the Muslim religion denounced this."

He said this is proof Fallujans want to put the incident behind them and focus on the prospects of the future instead of being branded by past. 

"When it's time to start with the projects, Fallujah's going to be open for anybody to go there," the mayor added.  "Mostly Iraqi contractors will be doing those and the expertise will be by American engineers. They're welcome to do it.  The American engineers will be supervising the work of the Iraqis." 

Both Iraqi leaders said the security situation has improved significantly since fighting was quelled.  There are signs the city's citizens are ready to resume a normal existence.

"Today, I saw six wedding convoys in the city," Latif said.  "Everything is normal finally in Fallujah and the all the families have come back to their homes."  

Latif said that the peace in Iraq is no small task and ensuring it lasts will hinge upon working hand-in-hand with Coalition Forces.

"We asked the Coalition Forces to help us get construction back and get things back on the trail," Latif said.  "Most importantly is that we work together. That is our main goal.  And this is going to be an example for all Iraq."

"I agree with General Latif now to say that this city is the calmest city and the most stable city in Iraq," Juraissey added.  "I would hope that the steps of peace will be accompanied by the steps of building and construction.  Now we are working with the Coalition Forces and the engineers to fix the homes, work on construction of the city."

Projects across the Al Anbar Province, the extent of 1st Marine Division's zone in Iraq, are already starting.  A project to repair 48 mosques has started in Ramadi.  Marines are leading a project to dedicate $1,200 in renovations to each mosque while employing crews of ten per projects for up to two weeks.  All the work is being coordination with local Imams, or Muslim religious leaders.

Still, security remains a concern and for the foreseeable future, Marines will continue to work side-by-side with Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers to ensure safety.

"I think the Fallujah Brigade needs to demonstrate it's got control," Mattis said.  "The only way you build trust out here is for us to work together.  We've seen it in Husaybah, where we had a dickens of a fight and literally a couple days later, things had changed."

Mattis said it's important for both Iraqi and American leaders to set realistic goals.  Not every policy is going to be agreed upon and not every action favorable.  The important part, he said, was that both sides were working toward the same goal.

"We have to understand we have a common cause here to restore peace, stop the violence, rebuild Iraq, the Americans get out of the way and move on," Mattis explained. "We don't do that by having two separate armed camps and never mixing the two."

Mattis added that Marines and Iraqi soldiers are already turning the tide against terrorist forces.  He said their power base in Iraqi is eroded and they continually find themselves on the run.  This is due, he said, to the fact that Iraqis want a more peaceful and stable future.

"I'll tell you right now, I don't get intelligence off a satellite," the general said.  "Iraqis tell me who the enemy is.  That is very dangerous for Iraqis.  You think about how much courage that takes when you've got to live with these murderous bastards."