HABBANIYAH, Iraq --
A man of modest means tends to his inventory of household items, while his two oldest sons chop ice outside, preparing it to be sold to the locals that attend this bustling Iraqi farmer market.
This may seem a common everyday event, but for the people of the area around Saqlawiyah, Iraq, it is a success story and proof of the efforts and sacrifices by the Marines of Company C, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6.
Lance Cpl. Jason S. Partida, an infantryman with first platoon, Company C, said the area, once rife with roadside bomb attacks and filled with abandoned homes, has begun looking more like normal.
“At (Observation Post) Riviera, the areas around the mosque and market area were just dead,” said Partida, a Canon City, Colo., native and 1999 Custer County High School graduate. “Now, there are (Iraqi Police) checkpoints and patrols. People re-opened the Mosque and are now worshipping. Obviously they feel safer, because people are moving back in.”
For Coalition Forces, it is as calm as any of them could ask for.
“In three months, we went from a place where there were pre-dug improvised explosive devices, sniper fire, weak security and the army was taking fire constantly,” said Capt. Varpas S. De Sa Pereira, the commander of Company C. “As a company, we were also attacked, and now it has become a place where the people are back in the market places, back to their jobs and lives and back to living a safer life altogether.”
This transformation is a welcome relief to the Marines and Iraqis who have spent the last three years working together to make life in Iraq safe and streamlined. De Sa Pereira said this seed of success has been planted using an important strategy based on three simple principles: clear, hold and build. It has been used by the Marines of Company C every single day since their arrival.
“We have worked off of the success of Operations Street Sweeper, Street Sweeper II and Texas, which cleared the area of insurgents and the dissension they bring to the people of Iraq,” explained De Sa Pereira, a New Bedford, Mass., native.
These operations were performed in conjunction with the local Iraqi Security Forces, and consisted of clearing operations throughout the Saqlawiyah area. These operations drew upon the experience of the Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police and Provincial Security Forces who were able to use their knowledge of the local area to identify potential insurgent threats.
Both the Marines and the PSF have maintained a significant face-to-face presence in the area since their arrival in late July. It is in part because the Marines built their patrols bases, where the Marine live, farther out into the farming communities and closer to the people. It is also due to the fact that now, the Iraqi PSF are manning their own checkpoints, do their own foot patrols and use what they have learned from their coalition counterparts, where in the past this was wholly a coalition responsibility, said 2nd Lt. Justin D. Singleton, the commander of fourth platoon, Company C.
“We have already started the transfer of authority from ourselves to them,” said Singleton, whose Marines live and work out of the local IP station here. “I eat with them regularly and we work side by side all the time. Even the posts, watching where we live, are manned half by Iraqi Policemen and half by my Marines.”
“We are extremely glad American forces came to Iraq. We hated Saddam and now it is going to take more time and work between U.S. and Iraq for complete success,” said an Iraqi interpreter, nicknamed Peter, who works alongside the Marines of “Charlie.”
The IP’s have a very good reason to do what they do and have a positive outlook about doing it, said Omar Mohammed, an IP working out of the combined Marine and IP station.
“We work hard to make things safe in this area,” said Mohammed. “We do it for the future of my family and friends. I do it for Iraq. It is no longer, ‘I am Muslim,’ ‘I am Christian,’ ‘I am Sunni,’ ‘I am Shia.’ It is, ‘I am Iraqi.’”
According to the Marines of the station and the surrounding patrol bases, this feeling is displayed through out the area, said Partida who, along with his fellow Marines of first platoon, just recently left their old area of operation and pushed farther out into a brand new patrol base and a brand new area.
“Now we are coming over here to do the same thing,” said Partida, a husband and father of five. “Hopefully we can calm it down as much as we did on the south side, then we can make a difference somewhere else. I think we will be successful once again, because obviously the way we are operating is working.”
With the clear and hold phases complete, first platoon is ready to start the building process.
“Soon we will transition completely, hand the security over and just provide overwatch,” said De Sa Pereira. “We won’t man checkpoints, they will handle the security completely and we will work more on governance. We will be relying heavily on the Iraqi government to take responsibility for the building process.”
In an area that was once considered the Iraq’s Wild West, there is peace, progress and provincial security.
“In this area, yes, we are winning the war in Iraq,” said Singleton.