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Soldiers with the 1st Azerbaijani Peacekeeping Company prepare to case the Azerbaijan flag to symbolize the completion of their tour in Iraq during a ceremony at Camp Ripper, Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, Dec. 3. For the past five years, soldiers from Azerbaijan, a small country near the Caspian Sea, have provided security at the Haditha Dam, which produces over 25 percent of the power to the country of Iraq. Iraqi Security Forces will now provide security at the dam, and the Azerbaijanis will soon return home.::r::::n::

Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Jason Bortz

Small country, big mission; Azerbaijanis complete tour in Iraq

3 Dec 2008 | Gunnery Sgt. Jason Bortz

For the past five years, service members from a small country approximately the size of South Carolina have been providing vital security for one of Iraq’s major source of power, the Haditha Dam.

On Dec. 3, Coalition forces recognized the hard work and efforts made by soldiers from the 1st Azerbaijani Peacekeeping Company during the past year, for their mission in Iraq is over and the soldiers will be returning home soon.

Azerbaijan is a small country located on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, north of Iran.  Azerbaijan was once part of the Soviet Republic, but declared its independence in 1991.  The country is approximately 33,000 square miles and has a population of over 8 million.

Though Azerbaijan may not be well known by most Americans, the work they have done in Iraq for the past five years deserves special recognition worldwide.

“The Azerbaijanis provided security for an absolutely vital piece of infrastructure in the al-Anbar province, the Haditha Dam, which produces an excess of 25 percent of the entire power grid for the country of Iraq,” said Col. Patrick J. Malay, commanding officer of Camp Pendleton-based Regimental Combat Team 5, whose area of operation includes the Haditha Dam.

The first company of Azerbaijanis soldiers arrived to Iraq on Aug. 15, 2003 and was assigned to provide security for the Haditha Dam.  With 11 rotations and more than 1,000 troops, the Azerbaijanis remained a constant presence at the dam, which incurred no large-scale attacks during their time there.   While at the dam, the Azerbaijanis manned all of the exterior checkpoints, searched the 630 dam employees daily, escorted the employees to shared areas of the dam and scanned the waters of Lake Qadisiyah to the north and the Euphrates River to the south for insurgent activity. 

Throughout al-Anbar province, Iraqi Security Forces have steadily increased taking control of areas previously controlled by Coalition forces: the Haditha Dam is no exception. 

“The victory story about the Azerbaijanis is that peace is breaking out in al-Anbar.  Peace is breaking out in Iraq, and the Iraqi Security Forces, in this case the Iraqi Army, are taking control of the dam,” said Malay, who is from Buffalo, N.Y.

During the ceremony to recognize their efforts, the Azerbaijanis proudly marched into formation and sang the Azerbaijan National Anthem.  After comments by Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter, deputy commanding general for operations, Multi-National Corps – Iraq, the Azerbaijanis were presented with several gifts for their service in Iraq.

“This is a historic day for the nation of Iraq and the nation of Azerbaijan, but it’s a bittersweet day in the sense that we must say farewell to our partners in the Coalition,” said Maj. Gen. Ferriter during the ceremony.

For the final part of the ceremony, the Azerbaijanis cased the Azerbaijani flag, symbolizing the completion of their tour in Iraq.  The company will soon return home, but they will leave with confidence that the ISF will continue to provide outstanding security for the Haditha Dam.

“Coalition forces are no longer on the front lines: we’re standing back, and we have a great deal of pride in what Iraqi Security Forces are doing on the front lines of this security fight,” said Maj. Gen. John Kelly, commanding general, Multi-National Forces – West.