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Marines continue to combat insurgency after death of Al Qaeda leader

21 Jun 2006 | Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

Despite the stunning blow to Iraq’s insurgency last week with the death of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Marines and Iraqi soldiers here are continuing the fight against terrorism by combating insurgent activity almost daily.

While they patrol the worn streets lined with pock marks from improvised explosive devices, the Marines are reminded that insurgents are still working behind the scenes and planning attacks in this city of 30,000 located on the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad. 

Zarqawi or no Zarqawi, the Marines and Iraqi soldiers still have insurgents to fight.

Still, the Marines here say that even though it has been a long and grueling three months, the insurgency is beginning to crumble in this city as local residents are warming up to the Marines’ presence and the Iraqi Army is becoming a more solid and independent organization. 

“We came here to train the Iraqi Army to take over this battle space,” said Capt. Michael R. Hudson, commanding officer for 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment’s Lima Company – the U.S. military unit assigned to provide security in Barwana, part of the “Triad” of cities in this region – Barwana, Hadithah, and Haqlaniyah. 

“The progress they have made is remarkable,” said Hudson, 33.

When the Marines arrived in March, Iraqi soldiers here did not have the training to conduct simple missions, such as organized foot patrols through the towns. Now they are countering IEDs, conducting raids on insurgents’ houses and providing security during humanitarian missions, said Hudson. 

Last month, Iraqi Army officers planned a raid of a house single-handedly and took suspected insurgents into custody, something they would have had much difficulty accomplishing when Lima Company arrived in March, said Hudson, a native of Concord, Mass. 

“By the time Lima Company leaves, I think the Iraqi soldiers will be capable of conducting combat operations without even having Marines supervise them,” said Staff Sgt. Timothy P. Ledbeter, 30, Lima Company’s chief Iraqi Army advisor and Craig, Ala., native. 

Once the Iraqi Army has control of the city, they will be able to recruit a police force more effectively because they are able to communicate with locals and assure them they will be protected from the insurgency, said Ledbetter. A functioning police force and a stable army will result in a more stable and secure city where residents can live without the fear of insurgents, said Ledbeter.

Ledbeter credits the success of the Iraqi Army not to advisors like himself, but the team leaders and squad leaders assigned to Lima Company who constantly prepare the soldiers for future missions.

But as the Marines are noting progress in the Iraqi soldiers’ performance, they’re still encountering resistance from insurgents who do not want to see the Iraqi Army succeed. 

Last month, Marines were assessing local schools for repairs and giving out school supplies to students, when insurgents opened fire on the Marines as they left the school. In the days following the small-arms attack, the Marines were exposed to a flurry of IED attacks. 

However, the Marines say attacks like these have been on the decline since they arrived in Iraq in March. Attacks against the Marines’ forward operating base and various joint U.S.-Iraqi patrols used to occur four to five times a week. Now, they are down to an average of two a week, said Hudson. 

One reason for the steady decline in insurgent activity is the fact the Marines in Barwana have captured quite a few insurgents – 60 since March, many of whom have been sent to prison for their crimes.

But Hudson said the Marines are not just focused on fighting insurgents. 

The Marines are also focused on improving the local economy by assembling work projects, employing residents with jobs such as posting street signs along roadways, renovations of local schools and repairing water pumps that provide potable water to residents. 

“It can take a long time to complete a project because the insurgents are still threatening residents for cooperating with us,” said Hudson. “But we keep track of the progress and continue to encourage locals to cooperate with us by getting them to attend meetings with us and assuring them that we will continue to suppress the insurgents.” 

Many of the Marines here say they get more satisfaction out of helping the locals with humanitarian projects than they do when they capture an insurgent. 

A couple weeks ago, Lance Cpl. Dominique Cook, a 22-year-old machine gunner assigned to Lima Company, was patrolling Barwana when a parched child approached him and asked for some water and food. 

Cook, a native of Dalton, Ga., said his heart went out to the young boy. He gave him a bottle of fresh water and a meal, ready-to-eat. 

“It was like Christmas for that child,” recalled Cook. “He was as happy as I was when I got expensive toys and video games for Christmas. I will never forget that child as long as I live.” 

Cook said it upsets him when the mainstream media only reports the negative news in Iraq and focus little attention on the good things Marines are doing, like rebuilding schools and giving toys to children. 

“It can be discouraging when I see the media portray us in a bad light,” said Cook, right after a two-hour patrol through Barwana’s winding streets, where temperatures often peak over 110 degrees. “But I am not going to let it get me down. I am still going to help these people every chance I get and I pray for them every night.”

“I know that the child I gave food and water to that day will also remember me for the rest of his life,” added Cook. “I do not think he will ever be an insurgent.”  

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