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Along Iraqi-Syrian border towns in Al Anbar province, communication key to Iraqi progress

3 May 2006 | Cpl. Antonio Rosas

Security, safety, and quality of life – three key elements to the continuing progress in this region of Iraq’s Al Anbar province, according to local Iraqi leadership.

Once a week, local sheiks and city officials meet with Iraqi Army and coalition forces officials in this small town near the Iraqi-Jordanian border, to discuss these topics and overall progress in this region along the Euphrates River.

It’s also an opportunity for the city and tribal leaders to address any potential problems which might hinder that progress.

At the latest of these town-hall-style meetings held April 15, the sheiks voiced concerns about security in the region.

They also addressed future efforts to repair damages caused by the insurgency and rebuilding their communities with the help of coalition forces.

“The meetings are important because it let’s us talk about problems in our town and we can find solutions,” said a 44-year-old sheik from the town of Sa’dah, through an interpreter.

Another sheik from the neighboring town of Karabilah is more concerned with security in his neighborhood.

“I have some security ideas we are analyzing at the meetings,” said the 50-year-old, through an interpreter.

Marines from the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, who arrived here early last month, mediate and provide security at the meetings.

The meetings also drive the Marines’ civil affairs efforts as well.

As the Iraqi leaders identify ways to improve their towns, the Marines use that information to begin civil affairs projects, such as building schools, repairing water filtration systems, and providing medical supplies.

On top of the Marines’ list of priorities is establishing strong Iraqi Security Forces in the area with the aid of the various transition teams, according to Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, the Marines’ battalion commander here.

Transition teams are groups of coalition forces service members who advise and mentor Iraqi Security Forces, such as soldiers, police and border guards. Iraqi Security Forces will eventually relieve coalition forces in Al Anbar province of all security operations.

Though progress is steady, the Marines and the Iraqi leaders both agree: there is still more work to be done – insurgents to weed out,  buildings and bridges to repair, and an economy to jumpstart.

The Marines, who live, eat and fight side-by-side with Iraqi soldiers here, conduct daily foot patrols through local towns to maintain a continual presence and keep the area secure.

With Iraqi soldiers and police patrolling the region, local towns are seeing an influx in security, but some Iraqi leaders say the Iraqis need to see more of their country’s security forces.

“In Sa’dah, they are still doing patrols together but what we need to see is the Army doing patrols by themselves,” said the sheik from Sa’dah, a town of approximately 2,000 citizens.

The Iraqis want Marines to take more of a ‘back seat’ role with security operations, and they want to see more of the Iraqi soldiers and police leading such operations, according to the tribesmen.

“We need to see the Army and police protecting our law,” said the sheik from Karabilah.

Protecting that law is precisely what Marano’s Marines are assisting Iraqi Security Forces with, mentoring and advising them in daily operations in order for them to become a more self-sustaining force.

“I want to thank the security forces for working well with my Marines,” said Marano. “The situation here in Al Qa’im has gotten the attention of officials on both sides.”

The collaboration between the Marines and Iraqi Security Forces is allowing for a more secure environment, paving the way for improvements to local infrastructure through such projects as removing rubble from damaged buildings, and the construction of a bridge over the nearby Euphrates River, according to Marano.

“As long as the security situation is good and the local people keep providing us information, we’ll build the bridge to improve people’s lives,” said Marano.

Several of the sheiks acknowledged that security in general is improving in the region, which has seen its fair share of violence since 2003 when coalition forces forced Saddam Hussein out of power.

“We can say now that the situation is good and the people feel safe, but many people are still worried about the cleanup of destroyed buildings,” said one tribal leader.

With Marine civil affairs units working diligently with Iraqi leaders to identify and begin reconstruction projects in the towns, the tribesmen are happy to see progress finally being made in their remote corner of Iraq.

“In the time of Saddam, the government forgot about the towns out here,” said the Karabilah native. “Now there are services and new projects coming here.”

Email Cpl. Antonio Rosas at rosasa@gcemenf-wiraq.usmc.mil