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Progress steady, Marines meet with Iraqi leaders, discuss security in Haditha Triad region

5 May 2006 | Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

Since their arrival in the Al Anbar Province nearly two months ago, Marines here say Iraqi Security Forces are progressing toward relieving Coalition Forces and stabilizing the region.

In this rural region along the Euphrates River valley, the transition from U.S.-led to Iraqi-led military operations is well on its way, according to one U.S. Marine who has spent nearly two months mentoring Iraqi soldiers in this region.

But the atmosphere in this portion of western Al Anbar Province has changed since Saddam Hussein was removed from office in 2003.

Instead of daily fire fights against an armed, known enemy, similar to what Coalition Forces experienced during the push to Baghdad three years ago, U.S. Marines here are focusing on showing Iraqi soldiers and police how to spearhead security operations on their own.

“The progress I have seen the Iraqi Army make in the last few months makes me confident we can withdraw Coalition Forces from the area in the next six to eight months,” said Lt. Col. Owen Lovejoy, the senior advisor for the Military Transition Team, which supports and advises the Iraqi Army unit stationed here.

One example of that progress came earlier this month, when a joint-Iraqi and U.S. military operation near Baghdadi – a small town just south of Haditha – resulted in three detained insurgents.

Local police, Iraqi soldiers and a group of Marines from Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment spearheaded the joint operation – a “collaborative effort which led to results,” according to Maj. Eric W. Kelly, Weapons Company’s commanding officer.

Moreover, the operation highlighted the proficiency and cooperation between local police, Iraqi soldiers and Coalition Forces, he said.

“Iraqi soldiers and Marines are on a mission to ensure that the people of this area remain safe and that the insurgency has no room to thrive here,” said Kelly in an email response to questions. “The ‘Sons of Iraq’ take this goal quite seriously.”

So far, progress seems steady in the region.  Iraqi Security Forces have conducted four operations on their own, reconstruction efforts are in the works to rebuild war-torn towns and villages, and local Iraqi leaders are meeting regularly to discuss and plan future efforts with the Marines.

Marine leaders say more than 30 insurgents have been captured, and three insurgent cells have been eliminated due to the combined efforts of Marines and Iraqi soldiers.

More importantly, security conditions seem to be improving in the Haditha Triad area along the upper western Euphrates Valley, as evidenced by a regular meeting of local city and tribal officials – a meeting which would not have been possible a year ago, according to Lt. Col. Norman Cooling, 3/3’s commanding officer.

Thanks to improving security conditions, such a meeting is now possible, according to Cooling. Six months ago, local Iraqi leaders were targeted by insurgents for cooperating with Coalition Forces, said Cooling, who also attended the meeting, which included more than a dozen sheiks, mayors, and other prominent local Iraqi leadership, to discuss security and reconstruction efforts in the area.

Now, local leaders can meet to discuss issues which impact the progress of their towns and villages. The councilmen had no qualms about walking to the meeting with Coalition Forces in broad daylight, said Cooling.  

“Since the councilmen agreed to meet with us, it proves they want to work with us and they believe we are interested in addressing their concerns,” said Cooling.

“The Marines have stabilized the security in the city,” said a local tribal leader after the meeting.  “One year ago, a meeting like this would never take place because the criminal acts of insurgents would have prevented it.”

During the three-hour meeting, Iraqi councilmen expressed concerns such as potential reconstruction efforts of a footbridge destroyed during combat operations last year. 

The footbridge connects the cities of Barwana and Haqlaniyah, both part of the Haditha “Triad,” and was one of several concerns local leaders discussed during the meeting. They said a refurbished bridge would bring stability to the local economy by providing a way for locals to transport goods between the two cities. 

“The reconstruction of the footbridge is paramount to the lives of many businesses here,” said a councilman during the meeting.  “A better economy means more jobs and less citizens turning to the insurgency for a source of income.” 

Cooling also elicited support from the Haditha city council for the recruitment of Iraqi police in the area.  He strongly stressed the importance of a police force being formed to continue the suppression of insurgency.

“The councilmen are considering supporting us in the police recruitment,” said Cooling.  “Right now they want to see results from their requests and we are going to make sure they see them.”

Last year, police recruitment was attempted in the Haditha “Triad,” but insurgents threatened and intimidated anyone willing to be recruited, according to several Iraqi leaders at the meeting.

Cooling said the Iraqi leaders’ concerns would be addressed and plans would be made to rebuild the footbridge, as long as these meetings continue and the city councilmen consider supporting a recruitment drive for potential Iraqi police officers.

“We know the Marines are here to help the citizens of Haditha,” said a councilman after the meeting.  “When they address our concerns and support our requests, the local people are going to notice this and in turn support them as well.” 

The meeting also brought about talk of possible modifications to current security measures in the area. Both sides of the table agreed security measures were necessary to stop the flow of insurgents into the city, but the Iraqi said some of the measures, such as traffic control points, are an inconvenience to local residents. 

Cooling said the issue would be addressed, but made no promises. Modifying the security measures could allow for an increase in insurgent activity, he said.

Though such meetings are a step in the right direction to improve security conditions in this volatile area of Al Anbar Province, both Iraqis and American leaders here say more work is needed before Coalition Forces can permanently leave the region, such as the recruitment, training and establishment of a local police force here and reconstruction of key components to local infrastructure.

The Marines say they will continue to work with local leadership to improve both security and quality of life for the Iraqi people.

“We will we show them through our actions we care about their concerns,” said Cooling.

Email Sgt. Seigle at: seiglemf@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil.