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1st Marine Division helps Iraqi military make final steps toward sovereignty

By Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald | | June 24, 2004

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Officers from the Iraqi National Guard recently wrapped up a weeklong Civil Affairs training course taught by Marines supporting the 1st Marine Division Governate Support Team.

The ING, formerly known as the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, is responsible for securing peace, protecting important government property and helping civilians during humanitarian disasters.

With the June 30 transfer of authority date approaching, the Marines are making sure the ING is prepared to assume responsibility for Iraq's security.

The training course was developed by I Marine Expeditionary Force to stress to the ING the importance of sharing information about military operations to the citizens of Iraq.

"Our role during a crisis is to help civilians," explained Iraqi Maj. Ahmed Saad, executive officer for the ING's Headquarters Battalion. "Part of that is gathering together and sharing information with the public about what is going on."

During the course, the Marines passed on their knowledge of civil affairs, public affairs and information operations.

"The goal we had going into this was to have the ING officers connect with their American civil affairs counterparts so they could work side-by-side," said Lt. Col. Alan G. Burghard, GST Commander.

The Iraqi officers come from various military backgrounds including artillery and infantry, so this training was a first for all of them.

"During the old regime, the only officers who were trained in civil affairs were the generals," explained Iraqi Lt. Col. Raheem Hamoud Modehi, Headquarters Battalion Commander.

Modehi said he hoped to take what he's learned back to his unit to train his subordinate soldiers.

The Marines taught the Iraqis how to interact with civilian media, conduct civil-military operations and work with international organizations to provide humanitarian assistance. They also learned how to conduct "displaced citizens" operations.

According to Burghard, displaced citizens are those groups of people, who for economic, social or natural reasons, are forced to move from one location to another.

"The course addressed public health concerns during crises," Burghard added. "We also discussed the commanders' legal obligations to the civilian population during these crises."

Throughout the lectures, the Marines shared real-world examples of how and when to utilize information, but not all the examples were positive.

"We had very honest discussions," Burghard explained.  "We talked about mistakes the American military has made in Iraq and how that affected how the world perceived us. One topic that came up was the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Gharib."

Saad said many Iraqis view the Coalition as "the enemy" because of the problems at Abu Gharib. After hearing the Marines discuss the scandal, he understood the importance of disseminating truthful information to the public.

"If we are able to let the people know what the military is doing," Saad said, "we can work together with them to coordinate efforts to help each other."

Although Saad and the other officers are interested in helping the people of Iraq, they put their lives in danger every time they work with Coalition Forces.

"Some Iraqis think that by working with the Marines we are traitors," Saad said.  "The normal person does not understand how important it is for us to get this kind of training because they don't think it will benefit them.

"If I'm in danger for working with the Coalition, than so be it. I'm working for the people of Iraq," he added.  "If I die, then I know I did it for an honorable purpose."

He said he's grateful for the Coalition-sponsored training.

"Everyone wants to see the Coalition leave the country eventually, so we have to get the Iraqi military ready to take over security," Saad added.
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