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Sovereignty transition means duty still calls in Iraq

28 Jun 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

Things haven't changed much for Lance Cpl. Michael A. McKissick since Iraq was declared a sovereign nation June 28th.

The 22-year-old assaultman with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment said he still wakes up at the same time, eats two hot meals a day and performs the same duties he's done since arriving here a few months ago.

"No one really told us about what Iraq's sovereignty meant for us," he explained. "I guess things won't change for us too much."

According to Lt. Col. Paul Kennedy, battalion commander, the daily lives of his Marines and sailors will not be impacted by the transition of power from Coalition Provisional Authority to the Iraqi people.

"The day-to-day mission for the Marines will stay pretty much the same," Kennedy said. "But we have started to make a much less overt presence out in town during daylight hours."

That's a welcome change for the Marines.

As one infantryman put it, "The less we go out the less chance there is of us getting blown up."

Still, Kennedy said the battalion is making a few adjustments following Iraq's assumption of power.

The battalion's civil affairs section, headed by Maj. Kenneth D. Lindberg, was one of the few sections to be affected by the transition of sovereignty.

Lindberg said the section was receiving its funds from the Development Fund Iraq Commanders Emergency Response Program.

"The DFICERP is funded by the United Nations and will cease to exist as of July 1," Lindberg explained. "We'll now be getting funds from appropriated CERP funds, which come from American taxpayers."

Prior to June 28, the battalion spent approximately $1.3 million on projects designed to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure in Ar Ramadi alone. The most expensive and recent of those projects is the construction of a new police station. Nearly $500,000 was put toward the venture.

"Civil Affairs will now take a more subtle influence," Kennedy said. "Now the Iraqis are responsible for deciding how to spend the money."

The battalion repaired schools, donated medical supplies, handed out soccer balls and took on various other projects. As the end of June approached, the battalion began to receive less money for projects.

"We knew from the beginning that our funds would begin to diminish," Lindberg explained. "But we'll still have given about $2.1 million by the time we rotate back home in September."

For future projects, the money will be given to representatives of the local government and they will choose where and how to spend it. But the Marines will continue to provide guidance if needed.

"A lot of our mission was to make sure the officials on the city level were capable of starting and completing projects on their own," Lindberg added. "It's going to be their show from now on. They'll be in charge of the bidding and contracting process."

Abdul Karim Barjis Al Rawy, governor of the Al Anbar province, is looking forward to getting to work.

During a visit to the Al Anbar Government Center June 28, Kennedy and Barjis discussed the future of the province, which includes the cities of Ar Ramadi and Falluja.
With the Coalition taking a backseat in Iraq's daily affairs, Barjis said his job should become a little easier.

"Many Iraqis believe that by working with the Coalition, I am a traitor or a spy," he said. "They never really believed that the Coalition would give the country to the people. I believe now that it has actually happened my people will no longer think I am a traitor."

Barjis added he doesn't want the Coalition Forces to pack up and leave just yet. The danger of an anti-Iraqi uprising is still a worry for him and his staff.

That point was driven home during the meeting between Kennedy and the governor.

As the two spoke, a dozen insurgents with rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns attacked the Ramadi Agricultural Center, where Marines man observation positions. The center is located about a mile from the governor's office. Five enemy combatants were killed and a handful more were injured. The Marines credited the Iraqi National Guard, who also operate posts in that area, with several of the kills.

Kennedy told the governor he should be proud because the city's security forces were doing well fighting off terrorists.

The governor said he was pleased but acknowledged that the Iraqi security forces are not fully developed yet. He said it'll take time to get stronger.

"There's still so many attacks and so much violence in Iraq that I believe we'll still need the Coalition from time to time," Barjis explained. "We don't need to work hand-in-hand any longer, but it's a good feeling to know that we have them behind us if we need them."

Kennedy reassured the governor that his Marines will continue to provide support.

"We will change nothing unless you ask," said Kennedy. "We want the Iraqi people to know that the Coalition is not going to get on a plane and just go home."

Barjis expressed his gratitude and said, "We don't want anything else from the Coalition right now except that you stay low and let us take care of our own problems. If we need you, then we will call you."