I MARINE EXPEDITIONARY FORCE HEADQUARTERS, Iraq -- Now that the regime of Saddam Hussein has fallen, U.S. military forces in Iraq are shifting their focus from combat to helping the Iraqi people get back on their feet.
Moving into the post-hostilities phase of the war, Marine forces in Iraq plan to pull out of Baghdad and points north to the southern half of the country in the near future, leaving the Army to defend the north.
While the Marine Corps will maintain security and stability in the south, the DoD-led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance will help re-establish everything from water and electricity to systems of education and government.
The goal now is setting the conditions for a self-governing Iraq, said Lt. Col. George W. Smith Jr., lead planner for I MEF, on April 16.
Using nine pre-war provincial boundaries in the south, U.S. forces plans to assist the Iraqi people in forming local democratic, self-sustaining governments.
Civil Affairs Marines, who specialize in working with foreign governments, are gathering help from Marine reservists serving in Iraq who have skills in their civilian lives in fields such as law enforcement, civil engineering and government administration to help the Iraqis rebuild their county.
Shifting quickly from combat to non-combat operations almost instantaneous should be nothing new for the Marine Corps, who developed the three-block-war concept in the late 1990s. The concept recognizes that a Marine's mission in modern warfare would change from intense urban combat to peacekeeping to humanitarian operations from one block to the next.
A drawback in combat operations also allows troops to intensify the search for elusive weapons of mass destruction, whose unaccountability prevents the U.S. from totally shifting to peacetime operations, said Smith.
"We haven't been able to put a lot of effort in that department," said Smith.
Locating these and other conventional weapons is no easy task, but U.S. forces are finding their greatest source of intelligence comes from the Iraqi people. Marines expect more and more help from Iraqis as it starts to sink in that they are no longer threatened by the regime, Smith said.
Besides weapons, small pockets of Hussein loyalists still remain in Iraq.
"We're going to stay in the attack, and we're going to hunt them down," said Smith.
Smith doesn't expect the Marines stay in Iraq to be much longer though. Due to the Marines' expeditionary nature and need to be ready for other contingencies, the Corps will eventually turn over their duties to the Army.
However, certain conditions must be in place before the Marines can return home, such as a reduction in hostilities.
A military victory doesn't necessarily mean success, said Smith. Until the Iraqi people rule themselves in a democratic nation, there is no victory.