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Iraqi soldier proud to patrol 'mean streets' from childhood

13 Apr 2006 | Cpl. Antonio Rosas

The townspeople of Sad’ah, a town near the Iraq-Syria border, wave and greet a heavily-armed Iraqi soldier as he patrols the streets, hunting for would-be insurgents.

One person who called this town home, grew from a child to a trained soldier and now strives to keep them safe by disrupting insurgent activity.

“Hadi” has an advantage over the other “Jundi” - Iraqi Army privates – since he has an intimate knowledge of the area of operations.

Just as his fellow soldiers are proud that they’ve taken the lead on daily security patrols, Hadi is equally proud to keep his neighbors and family safe from improvised explosive devices while sending the message to insurgents that this is his turf.

“I feel good about serving my country and keeping the area safe from terrorists for my family,” said Hadi, a rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 7th Iraq Army Division, through an interpreter. “The people that know me here get to see me walking the streets.”

Today, the 33-year-old and his platoon conducted a final gear inspection before departing the security of their forward operating base. The mission: a foot patrol to a neighboring town to establish a presence in the community and dissuade insurgents from using the area as a safe haven.

Before this area was turned over to the Iraqi Army for security operations, Marines had made several patrols through the area in Humvees, but never on foot. The rural town was not deemed a high priority for insurgent activity, according to Coalition officials, however, Iraqi Forces were bent on leaving no stone unturned.  

The Iraqi soldiers conduct foot patrols – vice “mounted” patrols in military vehicles – to allow them to interact with locals and maintain a steady presence in the area, according to Coalition servicemembers who shadow the Iraqi soldiers during such operations providing a mentoring and advisory role.

Several Iraqi Army officers, including a major, patrolled the streets alongside the Iraqi privates on their most recent patrol in order to speak with the townsfolk and receive feedback from citizens regarding the Iraqi Army’s presence.

The Iraqi Army leader went house-to-house to speak with the town’s residents, and was for the most part, greeted warmly by residents.

While the Iraqi commanders took a few minutes to speak with the locals, an elderly man, easily in his mid- 70s, expressed gratitude to the Iraqi soldiers, according to one of the Coalition Forces’ interpreters.

“I am glad that I can walk the streets in peace knowing you are here,” said the man. “A few months ago it was not possible, especially at night, because there were many bad men on the streets.”

Other villagers who were busy working outside their homes would occasionally stop what they were doing and wave at the soldiers welcoming their presence and lending a peaceful atmosphere to the Iraqi soldiers advance.

Although the Iraqi soldiers did not encounter or capture any insurgents during the patrol, their presence showed locals that the Iraqi Army is capable of providing security to the Iraqi people, while Coalition Forces are beginning to take a strictly advisory role, according to Army 1st Lt. Dean A. White, Military Transition Team Chief. Transition teams are groups of Coalition servicemembers partnered with Iraqi Army units. The teams mentor and advise each Iraqi unit, assisting them in the transition to operating independently.

As the Iraqi soldiers made their way through the town, their AK-47 service rifles draped over their shoulders, they mingled briefly with the townspeople and handed out candy and snacks to gleeful children.

Leadership from the transition team partnered with Hadi’s unit said Iraqi soldiers like Hadi are invaluable in helping Iraq’s road to self-stability, as they are quickly earning the trust of the local populace.

Furthermore, the transition team staff praised Hadi’s bravery and leadership ability.

“Not only does he know the neighborhood but he is a natural leader,” said Ken E. Miller, the transition team’s operations training officer. “Other soldiers follow him.”

The 48-year-old from Hershey, Penn., credits Hadi’s strong leadership capabilities to his professional attitude as well as a strong sense of dedication.

Miller pointed out that the Iraqi has provided valuable intelligence reports, which have lead to a variety of successful counterinsurgency operations.

After a day of patrolling through the streets and speaking with old neighbors, Hadi said he felt good about the day’s mission. It gave him a chance to shine among the people he grew up with, he said.

“I am happy to be a soldier and I am losing my nervousness every day,” said Hadi, who admits that when he first became a soldier eight months ago, he was nervous about encountering improvised explosive devices. He was aware of the death toll the bombs accounted for among both Coalition and Iraqi forces as well as innocent people. 

Five years ago, Hadi said he was forced to serve as a soldier under Saddam Hussein’s regime – a stark contrast from the all-volunteer Iraqi Army of today, he said.

“If Sadaam said ‘you will fight,’ then you had to fight or he would cut off your fingers,” said Hadi.

Hadi said he was glad when Sadaam’s rule collapsed. He made very little money in the Army while having to provide for his children. He juggled his stint in the Army with another job to make ends meet.

“I am proud to be a soldier now,” said Hadi, who volunteered to enlist in the new Iraqi Army to transform the war-torn streets of local neighborhoods to a place where even his children could be safe.

Miller and the rest of the transition team will continue to mentor the Iraqi unit until Coalition Forces deem the Iraqis ready to relieve the current U.S. military unit here of all security operations in the area.

“We have the knowledge that they can function in this area independently,” said Miller.

And progress is steady for these Iraqi soldiers, as they are beginning to display the confidence needed to function as an organized military unit, as evidenced by their recent patrol, said Miller.

“Today we were given a map and simply followed them,” added Miller, who affirmed that just months ago their team was introducing patrol tactics to the new Jundi soldiers.

The transition team, which is all Americans, had to plan and help execute nearly all of the Iraqi unit’s company-sized operations, as well as the majority of their logistical support convoys.

“The Iraqis are handling all logistical re-supplying of their battle positions from now on,” Miller said.

By year’s end, Coalition Forces say Iraqi soldiers will be ready to completely relieve Coalition Forces of security operations in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province. With soldiers like Hadi at the lead and progress of the Iraqi Army unit here continous, Marines here say the Iraqi soldiers will be able to meet that goal and begin to assume control of the various forward operating bases in the Al Qa’im region.

Editor’s Note: The name of the Iraqi soldier featured in this article has been changed to protect his identity.