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Iraqi soldiers go solo in western Iraq

27 Mar 2006 | Cpl. Antonio Rosas

Iraqi soldiers have taken their first steps toward functioning entirely on their own In this remote region of northwestern Iraq.

More than 100 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division conducted their first self-sustaining operation to quell insurgents in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province March 23.

The uniformed Iraqi men conducted a “cordon and knock” in this town of 5,000, providing perimeter security and searching house-to-house for signs of insurgent activity. They also interacted with the local populace, with minimal supervision from the unit’s Military Transition Team - Coalition servicemembers assigned to track and guide each Iraqi military unit’s transition to independent operations.

“They [Iraqi soldiers] were the ones knocking on doors, meeting with the people and shaking hands,” said 1st Lt. Dean A. White, MiTT team chief. “They looked strong out there.”

The operation resulted in no tangible results, such as hidden weapons caches or captured insurgents.

Still, Coalition and Iraqi military leadership here say the operation was a success, as it put Iraqi forces in the driver’s seat and allowed locals to see their nation’s Army providing security. 

“They planned and executed the operation by themselves instead of us guiding them,” said Army Staff Sgt. Ken E. Miller, MiTT training officer. “They [Iraqi Army] are ready to show people that they can do this on their own.”

The 48-year-old from Hershey, Pa., credited the success of the 2nd Battalion’s recent operation to strong noncommissioned officer leadership within the ranks – corporals and sergeants leading squads and platoons.  The Iraqis’ performance - especially that of the unit’s “Jundis,” or junior enlisted soldiers - was enough to impress Miller.

In the past, Iraqi soldiers conducted combined operations with Coalition forces. They’ve had to heavily rely on Coalition forces for everything from convoy security and logistics to operational planning and tactical decision making.

Now, the Iraqis are beginning to take over these types of operations while the Coalition units they’re partnered with take a backseat role.

“I am very happy with the Jundi. They did a good job and we were able to talk with the people and show them the Iraqi Army,” said one Iraqi Army captain, the unit’s operations chief. “The Americans were just here to help us.”

The 35-year-old from Basrah said the Iraqi soldiers want to establish a working relationship with the people to help stop insurgents’ intimidation of the residents along this town that borders the Euphrates River in northwestern Al Anbar Province.

“The people here are afraid of those people that come over from the other side of the river with guns and tell them not to help the Army,” said the Captain. “That is why I want to have good relations with these people.”

Meanwhile, the 1st Bn., 7th Marines – the Marine unit partnered with Iraqi soldiers from 2nd Bn. - will continue to provide security in this region near the Syrian border. Coalition leadership say the Iraqis will spearhead this mission by year’s end.

The operation allowed Miller and other MiTT staff members to identify any deficiencies within the unit before they conduct their next operation.

Currently, Marines from A Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment are partnered with this Iraqi unit. The two forces share the “battle space,” or area of operations, which encompasses this town.

“The goal is for the Iraqi unit to become an independent force, where the Marines will provide only a mentoring role,” said Miller. “This will be the most effective way of turning over the battle positions to the Iraqis.” 

Last week’s operation spawned another Iraqi Army achievement when soldiers executed their first logistics re-supply to six different battle positions the night prior to the operation.

“They [Iraq Army] will be able to run their own logistics convoys from now on,” White assured.

The success here comes on the heels of other recent achievements of Iraqi military units in western Al Anbar. Two weeks ago, an Iraqi Army company from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, conducted a similar independent operation in Khaffajiyah – a village along the Euphrates River about 90 miles east of the Syrian border.

A handful of Iraqi soldiers from 2nd Brigade in Al Asad recently graduated a three-week Humvee course and received 24 of the vehicles from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense – a step up from the unarmored pick-up trucks they were using.

Whether through logistics convoys, patrolling the streets or interacting with local residents, Iraqi soldiers here are on the path to success in this remote region of western Al Anbar Province.

“If the (Iraqi) battalion continues to do this well, there is no reason why they should not own this battle space by the end of the year,” said White, a 38-year-old from Seymour, Conn.

Email Cpl. Rosas at rosasa@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil