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1st Marine Division

Camp Pendleton, CA
Roots of transition

By Lance Cpl. Scott Schmidt | | October 12, 2008

An area formerly used by Iraq’s Baath party to produce chemical and biological weapons has taken a turn for the better.

The area, known to Coaliton forces as the “Tri-Cities”, encompasses Iraq’s government-planned housing areas of Jiko, Sattack, Mukalan and their outlying farming areas. The Tri-Cities City Council was formed only three months ago, and has quickly established itself as the local government in the region.

But only recently has security in the area improved enough to allow the council to provide governance in the area.

According to CIA reports, the Iraqi chemical facility, the Muthanna Chemical Complex, dominated the area but was left in ruins after precision bombing attacks on Saddam Hussein’s infrastructures during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The facility employed hundreds of Iraqis, and included housing to make working there more convenient.

From 1992 to 1994, United Nations Special Commission’s Chemical Destruction Group oversaw destruction operations to dispose of the weapons and the chemicals and agents used to make them.

Later, Iraqis from numerous provinces and tribal areas moved to and now inhabit the facility’s former housing areas.

Insurgents began using the region as a transit area and the community could do little to prosper, but Coalition forces and Iraqi Security Forces have recently had success in rooting them out.   

“The security provided by the Iraqi Army battalion and Iraqi Police in the Tri-Cities has laid the foundation for real progress,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jayson Franco, 4th Platoon commander with Mobile Assault Company (MAC), Task Force 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, and security adviser to Iraqi Security Forces in the area.

The Tri-Cities’ unique history and remote location has prevented the area from being officially recognized by any district or provincial authority.

Only continued professional and structured management of the area by the city council will legitimize the local community and government, said Capt. John Spohrer, a forward air controller from St. Amant, La., with MAC, who also serves as the governance adviser to the council.

The city council has proven to be effective when addressing issues unique to the area. Ramadi Mayor Latif Obaid Ayadah recently pledged to assist in the area’s advancement.

The city council is divided into smaller committees that include economics, agriculture, essential services and projects. The two to three person committees are responsible for ensuring the continued advancement and management in their assigned areas.

The Tri-Cities’ economy is fueled by the increasingly productive agricultural output from the outlying farming areas and the small businesses and shops scattered throughout the three housing complex areas. Still, a large number of local citizens travel to more populated areas such as Fallujah and Saqlawaiyah where they work or own businesses.

But those who do not travel for work are counting on the city council to help create a sustainable local infrastructure that will support future economic growth—a major priority for the council and the Marines with MAC who are assisting them.     

“(Our) role is to ensure continued (improvement in the) quality of life and to address issues of the people,” explained Spohrer. “The city council has a genuine concern for the local populace they represent.”

Spohrer and the Marines have been working with the council to make numerous advancements in regards to the essential services for the community.

Schools are now fully functional, with necessary supplies and an adequate teaching staff.

During the weeks leading up to the start of the school year, city council members led repair projects to ensure a suitable learning environment existed for their children.

“Our children are our future,” explained Muhammad Hussein, a member of the city council. “Education is important because it can solve a lot of the current issues here.”  

Providing potable water to the community is another major project for the city council.

Currently, the city council manages a water delivery contract which brings potable water to the area from other regions of Iraq.

This is a short term solution, however.

The city council, with the Marines’ assistance, is in the first phase of planning and constructing a modern water treatment facility which will utilize water from the nearby canal linking northern al Anbar Province with the Euphrates River.

The facility, which will be able to process 250 thousand gallons of water each day, will also provide several jobs to local Iraqis, said Hussein.

To address specific community concerns, the city council plans to foster community involvement by holding informal town hall meetings.

The meetings will facilitate communication among the Tri-Cities population regarding current and future plans for the community, and will create an avenue for the local citizen to voice their concerns.

“The council is capable and it has the means and right direction,” said Spohrer. “We can facilitate their desire to be part of a higher government.”

Although currently unrecognized by higher echelons of the Iraqi provincial or district governments, the city council and the community it represents have rooted themselves in a strong foundation of local governance while working together to find both short term and long term solutions to the issues that affect them the most.