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Soul back in Fallujah, locals enjoy favorite pass-time

17 Jan 2008 | Sgt. Nathaniel C. LeBlanc

Children running around laughing and playing, adults cheerful and conversing amongst each other. It is a sign of the times. The start of a new beginning for the war fatigued city of Fallujah.

 Hundreds of residents throughout the city, including Iraqi Police and Iraqi Security Force officials, gathered Jan. 17 to observe the Elwahda and Elasifa soccer teams from the local youth soccer league compete for the Fallujah Cup Championship in a safe and peaceful environment with the support of Marines from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6.

 A gathering of this scale would not have been possible a few months ago. But with the successful collaboration of the Marines, Iraqi Security Forces, community leaders and concerned residents in the fight against terrorism, the soul of Fallujah is back. To embrace this accomplishment, the locals enjoyed a national favorite pass-time, waiving Iraqi flags and cheering.

 During the festivities, the Marines of 3/5 took a backseat, still providing security around the area, and allowed the Iraqi Forces to take a more active role.

 “Today, Fallujah is much safer,” said Taha Kalil, a Baghdad citizen and spectator of the game. “Having Marines here is good… good for the Iraqi people; keeping the terrorists out of our cities, out of homes; making this (soccer tournament) possible. It’s a good thing.”

 “It’s a great event,” said Steve, a 3/5 interpreter and native Iraqi. “It sets a precedent. We see the calling of forces, high ranks, and regular coalition forces, who are interacting in a spontaneous way with the Iraqi police and people of Fallujah. They are sharing the community, helping the people, bringing happiness, and enhancing the bonds between the two sides.”

 Being born and raised in the region, Steve ‘the interpreter’ knows all too well the way of life in Iraq before and after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, and has seen first-hand the progressive evolution of his country, from oppression and seclusion from the world, to a free and hopeful future.

 “On a personal level, a great change has been accomplished,” Steve said. “The first thing that we, the Iraqi people, have is that we have got the hope now. We got the hope; the incentive to move on; to help our people to interact with the outside world; to show all the people all over that we are peaceful; and to show that we are loving.”

 Steve also added that Iraq is moving forward in the right way with the help and support of the U.S. Forces. He and the Iraqi people are thankful for their services.

 The main event pitted the two teams against each other in a final game to determine the city’s champion. It was a gritty matchup that ended in a shoot-out with Elwahda coming out as victors with a final score of 6 to 5. After the game, the Marines of 3/5 handed out soccer balls to children in the spirit of good will.