HABBANIYAH, Iraq --
The war has changed. No longer are Marines kicking in doors and battling insurgents with continuous gunfire. Instead, they are walking through the war-torn streets of Iraq, the same streets that just a few short years ago were the sights of horrendous warfare, where Marines are now continuously greeted by hoards of children, with their parents or guardians watching, smiling from a distance.
Now, with the future of their children at stake, the Iraqi people are taking their own ‘stand’ against al-Qaeda, giving the Marines tips on the locations of weapons, explosives caches or ‘bad guys,’ when they used to be scared to give such tips in fear of insurgents reprisal.
“The Iraqi people have so much fear that they won’t be able to provide a good life for their children,” said Maj. Guillermo Rosales, commanding officer, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 1. “The Marines are working with the (Iraqi Police), going out on patrols with them and the reaction from the people, seeing us work together like that, is overwhelming. They say that they feel more secure when we are in the area.”
This security felt by the people, given to them by the presence of Marines, has prompted the people to help locate enemy weapons ‘hide outs’ in the area and rid the area of insurgency.
Recently, with the help of a local Iraqi, Marines of Co. F, 2nd Bn., 24th Marines, uncovered several weapons caches in the Habbaniyah area, estimated to have taken over six tons of ammunition, explosives and ordinance away from the enemy.
“The people have been giving tips to the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police for some time now about these caches but not much has been done about it,” said Rosales, a 39-year-old Chicago native. “My guys went out there and used their insight and looked in suspicious areas and found a few caches. When they went back, they looked at other places that looked suspicious and found more caches and in all, we took away nearly 12 thousand pounds of weaponry away from AQI that could have possibly been used against us.”
Not only does the help of the Iraqi people benefit themselves, but also the Marines, giving them a high level or morale, which during stressful times such as a deployment to a combat zone, is essential. It has also caused a reduction in violence in the area, which benefits Marines, the ISF and Iraqi populous.
The reduction of violence in the region is a direct result of the Marines of Mayhem from the Heartland, a nickname given to the battalion referring to their headquarters in Chicago, working closely with the Iraqi Security Forces on a daily basis.
“Everything we do is in partnership with the ISF. They bring certain capabilities to the table and so do we, it’s a marriage of capabilities” said Charlonis, a 42-year-old from Waxhaw, N.C. “The ISF like having us in the background so in case something gets out of hand; we are there to back them."
This confidence the Iraqi people now have in the Marines is not new, but with the combining of Marines and the ISF, their confidence has ascended, strengthening the relationship between the Iraqi Police, Iraqi Army and the Iraqi people with that of the coalition forces.
“When the people realized that AQI was doing more harm than good and saw that we had their best interests at heart, they felt that if they helped us, there would be no retribution,” Charlonis said. “The (Iraqis) saw the ISF working with us and (the ISF) told them that we could be trusted. The people are no longer reluctant to help us, instead, they are willing to assist. That willingness to assist has been key to our success so far.”
The relationship between coalition forces, the ISF and Iraqi people has strengthened and has come a long way from the beginning of the war. It is now up to the Iraqi Security Forces to take what the Marines have brought to the table and use it to protect their country from threats, foreign and domestic.