COMBAT OUTPOST RUTBAH, Iraq --
Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces put together what was truly a joint effort to provide a safe venue for the first regional security meeting held in the city of Rutbah, Iraq, Jan. 2.
Despite the frigid temperatures, senior regional Iraqi and Marine Corps leadership from around the Rutbah district attended the meeting to iron out details in preparation for the local and national democratic elections scheduled to be held at the end of the month.
Tango Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, an artillery unit based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., took the lead on providing security for the meeting, which hosted leaders and security elements from the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi Police, the Iraqi Highway Patrol, as well as several Coalition units, including Marines from 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5.
Although the security situation in western al-Anbar province has improved dramatically over the past two years, the Marines ensured the Iraqis adopted all of the necessary precautionary measures, according to 1st Lt. Steven Mauceri, 24, the officer-in-charge of the Rutbah District Police Transition Team.
“There’s still definitely a threat out there in Rutbah,” said Mauceri, a Brooklyn, N.Y. native. He mentioned specific isolated incidents of suicide vest and small-arms attacks by insurgents that indicated that potential hazards remain in the Iraqi desert.
As the PTT leader, Mauceri and his small force of seasoned Marines worked with the local Iraqi Police to ensure that they were vigilant in patrolling the streets and taking other actions to thwart possible attempts by the insurgency to attack Iraqi or Coalition leadership surrounding the security meeting.
Mauceri identified vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices as another potential threat, but stated that the Iraqi police officers he has worked with and trained over the past six months are up to the job of protecting their city for the upcoming elections, adding that “they have done some remarkable work and made great progress.”
Known by their unit call sign “Tough Guy,” Tango Battery Marines are tasked with providing overall security for all key leader engagements in Rutbah, which include weekly city council sessions and meetings with the mayor. The artillerymen of Tango Battery have adapted to their infantry mission here, conducting vehicle and foot patrols throughout the city with Iraqi Police officers around the clock, seven days a week.
Hours before the regional security meeting began, Tango Battery Marines and their Iraqi counterparts secured the area, with Iraqis and Americans standing side-by-side at posts surrounding the meeting venue. Additionally, Marines and a military police working dog swept the city council building for explosives.
For several hours, joint roving patrols of Marines, Iraqi Police and soldiers from the Iraqi Provisional Security Forces wound their way throughout the streets and alleyways in Rutbah, stopping frequently to speak with local citizens, the Americans doing so through an interpreter.
“Now the city is back to a state of normalization, to a point where the IP’s are in the lead and we’re in assistance to them,” said Capt. Chris Demetriades, 37, commanding officer of Tango Battery, from Henderson, N.C. “Right now, the IP’s are weaning themselves off of reliance on us for security of the city.”
Demetriades noted challenges in working with the Iraqis, but explained that through patience, mutual respect, and a clear focus on putting the Iraqis in the forefront of all operations, Tango Battery has achieved an excellent working relationship with the Rutbah-area police. Together, they have been able to maintain peace for the city’s 20,000 citizens. This is vital for the success of the upcoming elections.
“As a Marine, you always want to plan ahead, in detail, for every contingency, in the Marine Corps way,” said Demetriades, on his fourth tour in Iraq. “But the (Iraqi Police) came up with their own security plan for the meeting, and we supported it. In the end, an Iraqi plan is better than an American plan, because this is their country.”
This was the second of several regional security meetings scheduled prior to the upcoming local and national Iraqi elections at the end of January.
“I am very happy because we made sure of security at this event,” said Mustafa Adnan Ali, 23, a Rutbah native with 18 months of the local police force. “The Iraqi forces came from many places and did a good job today. With Coalition Forces, we all work like brothers and one team.”
During the elections, the Iraqis will have the lead on ensuring the safety of all election sites in the Rutbah district, with the police guarding the patrolling sites and the army and other elements of the Iraqi Security Forces responsible for the nearly 4,000 miles of open desert terrain.