ABU GHRAIB, Iraq -- Editor’s note: Maj. Riordan is the executive officer for 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.
Marines are helping Iraqis take control of an infamous icon of their past.
Marines from “America’s Battalion,” 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, are helping Iraqi soldiers set up their newest forward operation base at Abu Ghraib Prison. Iraqi Army soldiers are moving into the facility permanently as they continue to grow and expand their independent areas of operation.
The prison was used for years by Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s former dictator, where he locked up political prisoners, tortured and killed them. Standing near the Al Khandari Souk, or market, on the western fringes of Baghdad, Abu Ghraib Prison was a coalition force prison from 2003 until it recently closed. The prison was at the center of a prisoner abuse scandal that affects the way both Iraqis and Americans view this place.
The move into the prison will expand the zone of operation for 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division. They currently operate in battlespace independent of that of Marines.
“It’s easy to forget that the Iraqis are the main effort,” said 1st Lt. Cameron Browne, a 24-year-old from Arlington, Texas, assigned to G Company. “We are not the future of Iraq. They are.”
Browne is leading a platoon of Marines on the specially-organized mission. Marines aren’t going to run the prison, or even guard it. Their mission is to train the Iraqi Army to do it for themselves.
This mission is particularly important because of the iconic value of the prison to the Iraqi people. Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Anderson explained the historic and cultural significance of Abu Ghraib by comparing it to a well-known American landmark.
“It is a historic site to the Iraqi nation; they can’t lose it,” explained the 29-year-old from Alexandria, La. “The insurgents can’t take it back from them. It’s something like the Alamo to many Americans.”
This will be the first opportunity for many of these Marines to train Iraqi soldiers, and they all seem prepared for the challenges. “America’s Battalion” has been on the ground in Iraq for just more than a month.
Browne said it was an opportunity to “increase the Marines’ cultural and language proficiency.” Anderson said he hopes to “develop a sense of discipline and pride in the Iraqi soldiers.”
Still, he knows the answer to solving Iraqi problems must be an Iraqi solution. It’s something Anderson knows well. He’s no stranger to assisting Arabs in security missions.
Anderson was brought into this mission because of his Marine Corps Security Force background and his experiences working with other Arab Armies. He said he’ll focus on the basics, engage Iraqis on a personal basis and develop a training program that works for the Iraqi soldiers.
Anderson said that his unit can help the Iraqi Army be fully capable of securing and managing Abu Ghraib within a matter of weeks.
Marines of this training cadre understand the gravity of their mission and are committed to enabling the transition of the prison to Iraqi control. The prison, and to a greater extent, the Iraqi control over their future, carries far greater value than just the walls from which they will operate.
“This is decisive terrain,” Browne said.