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Marines thwart insurgents’ attempt to destroy new Iraqi school for girls

7 Jul 2006 | Cpl. Antonio Rosas

Thanks to the work of Marines and Iraqi Security Forces, 800 elementary-aged girls will now have a school to attend this fall.

Marines from 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment unveiled a brand-new grade school in this city of about 30,000 on the Iraq-Syria border in western Al Anbar Province July 7.

About one week before its opening, insurgents planted an improvised explosive device inside the school which would have leveled a good portion of the building, destroying nearly three months of work by Marines and locals, said Gunnery Sgt. Joseph S. Mallicoat, team leader for the civil affairs team here.

“The bomb had the potential of taking down both wings of the building and the school would have been unable to open by September,” said Capt. Rick Bernier, commanding officer of C Company – the Marines responsible for providing security alongside Iraqis in this city.

The Marines discovered the bomb and immediately secured the building leaving Iraqi Security Forces to provide 24-hour security to prevent further attacks.

Local tribal leaders and sheikhs attended the school’s grand opening and expressed thanks to the Marines of 3rd Civil Affairs Group who spearheaded the reconstruction project and obtained the necessary manpower to complete the building.

Civil Affairs teams oversee funding for a variety of reconstruction projects in the region which bolster Iraqis’ quality of life while improving the economy, said Lt. Col. Larry L. White, the civil military operations center director for the Al Qa’im region.

The team spent nearly two years finding a contractor to complete the project and locals had lost hope of seeing their school constructed since it was destroyed in 2003 during heavy fighting between Marines and insurgents, according to Mallicoat, 33, from Vancouver, Wash.

“I want to thank the Coalition Forces on behalf of all of the people of Karabilah for finishing the school very fast and for supporting the construction of a fine place,” said Mohammed Ahmed Selah, mayor of Karabilah, where the school is located.

The mayor and the Marines agree that the school’s neighborhood is relatively safe although there is still the threat if IED’s – the insurgents preferred method of attack, according to Bernier, a Fallbrook, Calif. native.

“The bomb was a last ditch effort by insurgents to destroy the progress we’ve made in this area,” said Bernier.

Since arriving here four months ago, the Marines have seen a decrease in enemy activity after conducting daily security patrols in 110 degree-plus temperatures alongside Iraqi soldiers. The Marines have also introduced the city to their new police force and have begun conducting security operations alongside policemen.

The Marines say local Iraqi Security Forces have made significant progress in the past few months by providing security for their people and conducting several independent operations to hunt down insurgents. Just three months ago, Iraqi soldiers partnered with the Marines here were learning the basics of security maneuvers and weapons handling.

Today, the Marines conduct security foot patrols with the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police on a daily basis. Now, the Marines say they are seeing less insurgent activity since they arrived four months ago, thanks to the combined efforts and increase of presence of Iraqi Security Forces.

“We are capturing more of the bad guys with a higher level of expertise in IED-making and that leaves a lot of insurgents with minimal experience in making the bombs,” said Bernier. “One guy blew himself up last week trying to plant an IED.”

Tribal sheikhs expressed pride in the region’s new police forces during a visit by Al Anbar Provinces’ governor to Husaybah last week. The governor, Maamoon Sami Rasheed al-Awani, echoed their sentiments.

“The security in this region has changed for the better,” said Awani in Arabic during the July 3 meeting. “Without the work the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police are doing here, we would not be able to move forward with construction projects.”

The city of Karabilah opened their first police station last month after a three-year hiatus of policemen.

The Marines feel the area will remain safe from insurgents as more Iraqis are coming forward to join local police forces.

Of the 400 Iraqi males who showed up during a police recruiting drive last week in Al Qa’im, more than 100 were accepted for police boot camp – the largest turnout yet in the area.

The Marines’ priority in this region is helping local police become more involved with their communities, thus bolstering locals’ confidence in their own police force, said Bernier.

The sooner the Iraqi people can count on their police to address crime in their city, the sooner Coalition Forces can begin going home, according to officials with the Police Transition Team here, a group of servicemembers responsible for mentoring and advising the Iraqi Police to become an independent organization.

“The policemen here do their job much the same way police officers back in the states do their job,” said Arthur L. Dehlinger, a retired American police officer with the Police Transition Team. “The people here are going to trust their own police force over the Americans naturally.”

The transition team’s goal is to have fully functioning police departments throughout the country in order for Iraqi Security Forces to take over security operations such as in places like the Diyala Province, Iraq. Iraqi Security Forces there have already begun working independently.

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