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Iraqi police unearth weapons caches; conduct ‘solo’ operations in Iraq

7 Aug 2006 | Cpl. Antonio Rosas

Coalition Forces are not the only ones taking bomb-making material and other weapons out of insurgents’ hands – Iraqi police in this city bordering Syria recently found two hidden stashes of munitions and weapons. 

The police discovered the two caches, which consisted of multiple rockets, mortars, and hundreds of machine gun rounds, while on a security foot patrol through their city.

Thanks to months of training and mentoring by U.S. Marines and soldiers, Iraqi police in this portion of Iraq’s western Al Anbar province, are now operating independently out of their own police station.

“The Iraqi police are beginning to provide security on their own,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. “The work that Marines have been doing over the last couple months is starting to show.”

Just a few months ago, there were no police here. Now, they have dozens of officers who provide local security for the city’s 30,000 residents.

“The Iraqis finding weapons caches means they’re progressing towards becoming more independent,” said Marano.

Moreover, Iraqi police in this city, as well as throughout many border cities along the Euphrates in northwestern Iraq, are now operating independently, thanks to months of training and working with U.S. Marines and soldiers.

Just one week before the discovery of the caches, Iraqi police also assisted in the discovery of two suicide-bomb vests which could have been used by insurgents against the Marines and Iraqi Security Forces here, officials say.

Marano’s Marines are responsible for conducting security operations in one of the largest areas of operations in western Al Anbar Province, which begins at the Iraq-Syria border and covers thousands of square miles both north and south of the Euphrates River.

While Marines from the southern California-based unit maintain outposts near the Iraqi police stations, the Iraqis and Marines often work on entirely different operations independent of each other.

Iraqi Security Forces have made steady progress throughout Iraq with some provinces’ security entirely in the hands of the Iraqis, according to senior U.S. officials.

“We’ve been very successful with the Iraqi Security Forces,” said Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a press interview at the Capitol July 27. “Particularly the Ministry of Defense forces are doing increasingly an excellent job.”

Rumsfeld pointed out the current number of Iraqi Security Forces, which are trained and equipped at about 275,000.

“This is a milestone for the Iraq Security Forces,” said Marano. Just several weeks ago, the Iraqi police were conducting combined patrols alongside Marines and Iraqi soldiers.

Although the Iraqi police are working on their own now, Marano maintains close contact with all of the police commanders and meets with them on a regular basis to address any security issues and check progress in the area.

In Karabilah, the police chief there has already noticed a significant increase in the amount of civilian traffic after Coalition Forces opened a new bridge over the Euphrates River. The bridge gives villagers living north of the river easier access to that city.

“There is more trading now and more people bringing their sheep and cows to the market for sale,” said Karabilah’s police chief, who chose to remain anonymous for this interview.

The police presence in Karabilah means more to the locals than the Marines’ presence, according to some Marines there.

“The people see the police in their uniforms and they are more willing to talk to them and interact with them,” said Sgt. Patrick J. Huwiler, a rifleman from the battalion’s Company C.

Still, U.S. forces are always close-by Iraqi police to help provide additional security. Anytime the police patrol their cities, the Marines know at all times when and where the Iraqis in blue are at, said Huwiler, a 23-year-old from Hales Corner, Wis.

A bonafide police force in this region was unheard of just three years ago, the Marines say. The lack of security made this border-city a hangout for terrorists until Marines conducted a large-scale operation in 2005 to clear the area of insurgents.

Today, there are nearly 600 policemen in this border region, according to Marano.

A 40-year-old local Karabilah fisherman who lives just minutes from the Euphrates River said he has seen a lot more people crossing the river since Iraqi Security Forces set-up positions near the river’s edge.

“I think the people here feel safer with all of the police and soldiers around,” said the fisherman through an interpreter. “Just a few months ago it was not safe to be near the river after dark.”

During foot patrols through the city, Iraqi police often stop by local shops and markets to speak with the people, who are hospitable. Sometimes the people offer them a glass of water or a piece of fruit during the encounters.

For Huwiler, who is on his second deployment to this same region, the changes he has witnessed from his first deployment are “phenomenal.”

On a visit last month by the Al Anbar Province governor, city officials here lauded the improved security thanks to the work of Iraqi Security Forces and Marines. Better security meant the governor could give the green light for construction projects to commence such as a refueling station and a new hospital. 

This is the battalion’s second consecutive deployment to the same area of operations near the Iraq-Syria border. This year the battalion focused more on building Iraqi Security Forces due to the region’s improved security according to the Marines here.

“Our job is easier now from when we were here last,” said Huwiler. “Last year we would go on raids and that was it. Working with the Iraqis this year has paid off.”

Karabilah and the nearby city of Husaybah were the sites of some of the heaviest fighting in western Al Anbar province last year when Marines conducted several counter-insurgency operations to hamper the terrorists’ control of the area.

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