Second Iraq Deployment

In November 2005 I started looking at the possibility of doing reserves after I got off of active duty. I had worked with the Marine Corps Civil Affairs when I was in Iraq the first time and found that work very rewarding. The mission of Civil Affairs is to help the battlespace commander shape the battlespace for the success of the mission. Civil Affairs does this by working with the local population and civil administration to help them understand why the Marines are there and how the Marines can change their actions to make sure that the local population supports our goals instead of fighting against them. We do this through helping install responsible local leaders, helping these leaders meet the needs of the local populace, and opening dialogue between the local leaders and the Marines. My detachment was assigned to Fallujah area of Iraq. It was a great oportunity and we made a lot of progress. It is not a quick process, but slow and steady will definately win the race. It is certain, however, that if we left, Al Qaeda and the criminals would take over Western Iraq through murder and intimidation of the local populace and local police. I hope you enjoy the below pictures and narratives.

Fallujah has a population of about 300,000 people. It is on a bend of the Euphrates River surrounded by farms along the river (seen as dark in the below overhead view) and desert everywhere else.

Click on images to enlarge.
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Fallujah, located in Anbar province. An overhead view of Fallujah

We had an exciting start to our trip over. President Bush was coming back from a trip and landed at the same airport we were leaving out of. He was told that there was a unit of Marines getting ready to deploy and he offered to take a few minutes out of his time to thank us and send us off. After a very long flight and several interim stops, we finally arrived at Camp Fallujah.
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A "thank you" from the President Me at the entrance to Camp Fallujah

I will tell you a little more about the city and the people and show you a few pictures. The city used to be an industrial city producing everything from doors to stained glass. There were several state owned factories as well. A lot of the larger businesses were having a hard time restarting because of security, lack of electricity, and damages from different battles. We were working hard with the Iraqi government to approve funds that had been promissed to these business to repair the damage of the large Marine operations (the Marines had made it a requirement that if the Iraqi government wanted us to clear the city, they were responsible for repairing it after we were done). There were a lot of little shops that were up and running and sold everything from Pepsi's to flat screen TV's. There were also a lot of little vegitable and meat stands. As you can see in one of the pictures, the roads were fairly modern (except for the craters caused by insurgent bombs) and the city had a major overpass and a fairly new bridge. They were on septic tanks for sewage, but mainy of them were failing so people just routed their toilets to the storm sewers. The US military was working with several Iraqi contractors (using American money) to build a brand new sewage treatment plant and drinking water treatment plant.
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Entrance to Fallujah with Police check point. One of the many Mosques
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Fallujah traffic with donkey cart among cars. Restaurant with apartments above.
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Vegitable market Meat market
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A typical Fallujah house. Walled courtyard with gate. Inside the typical house. We were just talking to the family.
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Countryside farm View from inside the convoys
The most important part of civil affairs and counter-insurgency is getting to know the people and helping them understand that we were there to help them and that the legitimate government is better for everyone than Al Qaeda. So we went out a lot and talked to a lot of people. They were in a very tough situation. If they were seen being friendly to the Americans, Al Qaeda would beat them or kill them. Phone service was unreliable, so even if they saw something they couldn't report it. And finally, when we first arrived, the police were not even leaving the police station out of fear of Al Qaeda, so even if they could call the police, no one would come. Can you imagine not being able to call the police after someone just came in your house, killed your wife, and kidnapped your child? Americans have told me that the local Iraqis should stand up against Al Qaeda. That's like asking the people of South Central LA to stand up against the gangs or the people of 1920's Chicago to stand up against Al Capone. Only a strong, uncorrupt, local police force can protect the population. I will discuss the police later. I can't show you some of the more friendly pictures out of fear of the safety of the people that were nice to us.
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A nice family Iraqi children
I was the detachment executive officer, so my job had a lot of responsibilities. First and foremost was making sure that our civil affairs teams had everything they needed. They were at the ground level and that is where you defeat an insurgency, so they were my focus. Part of helping them was to listen to what they were dealing with, understanding what the situation was, and then pushing their suggestion up to our bosses who were making the high level decisions. So when the city council chairman was murdered, I needed to know what was going on within the city and the local leadership to give the best advice to my higher command. So I did a lot of listening and went out with the teams from time to time to see first hand what was going on. I learned something new every day and didn't have a good idea what was going on until several months into the deployment. That is one reason I find it funny how so many politicians and people claim to have the answer to Iraq even though they have never talked to a local iraqi. What we came to realize was that in western Iraq, which is mostly Sunnis who were privilaged under Saddam, we had a case of a pitbull who had gotten out of control. The thing to understand, was that right before we went into Iraq in 2003, the US told the Iraqi generals that if they kept their troops in their bases, that they would be ok. So we came into Iraq, they stayed in their bases, and then Paul Bremer fired them all and took away their pensions. I know it was a complicated situation for Ambasador Bremer and he probably made what seemed like the best decision, but imagine if you were a 50 year-old Iraqi General who had served your country for 30 years only to loose your pension because of the Americans who had promised you otherwise. You have weapons and troops who are loyal to you and if you can get rid of the Americans, you can have your prestige and pension back. Then Al Qaeda comes to you and says they are willing to help you get rid of the Americans. So the generals agreed and started fighting the Americans with Al Qaeda's help. The problem was that Al Qaeda wanted to lead, not help, and had no intention to let the generals run things once the Americans left. So they started to kill the generals and their families when the generals told them to stop killing civilians. So our part of our job was to convince the nationalist insurgents to fight with us against al Qaeda instead of against us. These nationalist insurgents were lead by former Iraqi military officers and tribal Sheiks, so these were the main people we had to win over. For the former military officers we told them that if they would fight against Al Qaeda who had no intention of letting them run Iraq after the Americans left, we would work with the Federal Iraqi government to get them jobs in the local police forces where they could legitimately defend their families against Al Qaeda and gain employment and legitimacy in the new Iraq government. This is easier said than done with the Shiite lead federal government being very distrustful of the Sunnis. It was also difficult because Al Qaeda was very ruthless and had more weapons and funding than the police did. But it was essential, because like I said earlier, only a strong, non-corrupt, local police force protect the people, so we put our full efforts beind it. When my unit first got to Fallujah the police would not leave the police station. So we got a former local nationalist insurgent leader (and former Iraqi military Colnel), who had come to us after Al Qaeda killed his brother, to request from Baghdad, with our help, to become the new Fallujah police chief. We got it worked out and he came to Fallujah with some of his men, who we also sent through police training.
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Police having to hide their identity. Marines helping train the police.
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We gave the police a fighting chance against the insurgents. And helped them when they took hits.
In exchange for the Sheik leading his tribe against al Qaeda, we would pay for construction projects in his tribal area that would provide jobs, money, and improved services like water and roads. "Something for something" became our motto. This worked into the movement that was going on in the rest of Anbar with the "Anbar Awakening" of tribal sheiks. To win an insurgency, you have to influence the population to turn against the insurgents. You have to convince them that your way is better than the insurgent's.
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Me working to fix a water treatment plant for a tribe. Providing food to a sheik and his tribe.
Not only did we need to get the Sheiks fighting Al Qaeda, we needed them participating in the Iraqi Government so that they would feel part of bigger picture and be able to represent their people. We also needed the Fallujah City council to be more representative in general. When we first arrived to Fallujah, the city council did meet, but it was a bunch of guys who were first of all not elected, and secondly only there for personal gain. The few good city council members had been scared off or killed by Al Qaeda. The State Department was all excited just because the council was meeting, but it had become a joke. When Al Qaeda killed the only two decent remaining city council members (one of whom we had become to know pretty well) and we began to realize the Mayor was working with Al Qaeda to steal the citizens' propane and then sell it on the black market to fund Al Qaeda and the Mayor, we knew something had to be done. First we decided to get the Sheik's involved. They actually met once a week anyway as a Sheik's Council and one of our team leaders had begun attending that meeting upon the invitation of a Sheik he had reached out to. Our team leader was able to convince them to attend the City Council meeting so that their voices could be heard (see pictures below). The Mayor (and the State Department) was a little surprised when the Sheiks showed up and accused the Mayor of being a crook and the council of only caring about themselves and not the interest of the people of Fallujah. They hit it right on the head though. Then we decided to get a representative council. I worked very hard (through an Iraqi point of contact I was able to build at the provincial level and through a little trickery at the local level) to get the list of elected members. We then worked to determine who was actually attending, told those that were not attending that they would loose their seats, and then held an election to fill those empty seats. The election unfortunately did not go as we had hoped (there was some meddling from the national government to make sure some of their party members got seats) but it was definately a step forward.
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Leading the Sheiks to the city council Sheik speaking his mind at city council
The other part of what I did was working with the city engineers to try to get some of their most emergecy projects funded, get federal money for some of their other projects, and to get an understanding of how the local government ran and conducted business. It was actually a great way to understand the city, make some friends, and influence the citizens by making sure they were getting taken care of by the city. I still keep in touch with several of the city engineers still today. Through working with this group I was able to find out when there were power outages caused at the national level which of course affected local sentiment, work to repair the telephone lines (which allowed citizens to call the police when they saw insurgents), and make sure some of our projects were coordinated with the city and accepted by the locals. One of the funnier things was that when I left they provided me a certificate that they typed on Microsoft Word. However, Word did not recognize "Fallujah" so it replaced it with "Fallopian". So my certificate states the Fallopian Reconstruction Committee's appreciation of my efforts. It was lost in translation. One eyeopener was after being told that the government was so backward and couldn't get anything done, I was able to get my hands on a list of reconstruction projects worth over $10M that had been prioritized by the city, funded by the government and actually under construction. It made me realize that we didn't need to to teach them how to run a city, we just needed to help them realize the advantages of doing it fairly, coordinated, and uncorruptly. Corruption was a major problem and just made things ugly sometimes.
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Receiving my appreciation letter from the engineers. Fallujah Construction List (in Arabic)

The rest of this page is still under construction. Until then, here are some additional pictures from the deployment.
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A future sheik. Checking for stolen fuel.
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Delivering Iraqi saleries to the bank under sniper threat. Transitioning money delivery to Iraqi police.