EISAWID, Iraq --
Capt. Muhammad Karim Muhammad reclines on a sofa in what serves as the dining room for the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division.
He and the other members of the battalion staff have just finished their evening meal with their advisers from the Marine military transition team that lives with them, and they are watching Iraqi television and talking about tomorrow.
He chain-smokes cigarillos and sips piping-hot chai while he discusses upcoming operations with 1st Lt. Jimmy W.
Lindemann. The two are planning cache sweeps and presence patrols in the Diyala River Valley in order to finally break Al Qaeda in Iraq’s hold on the area.
Muhammad has an average build, without the paunch that many Iraqi officers seem to develop as they advance through the ranks. He wears a thick black mustache that droops down on the sides instead of the usual Saddamesque type sported by many here in Iraq. The mustache makes him look more like he would fit in at a honky-tonk bar in west Texas than fighting insurgents in Diyala.
Between giving grid coordinates for the next day’s searches he good naturedly pokes fun at Austin, one of the MiTT’s interpreters and puffs away on his smokes.
Muhammad has served with the battalion since 2004 and has been posted in al-Anbar, Mosul and now Diyala fighting AQI and other terrorist groups. For Muhammad this is a deeply personal struggle for the future of his country.
“My mother was killed by a vehicle-born improvised explosive device while she was shopping,” he says as he leans forward earnestly. “Some of us have lost brothers, fathers, sisters, mothers. Everyone has suffered because of the insurgents.”
But thanks to men like Muhammad, the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi people are forcing the insurgents out of their strongholds, reducing their influence over the local population and bringing peace and stability back to their country.
“Iraq is tired of terrorism,” says Muhammad. “When we meet with the tribal sheikhs we tell them, ‘You must stop terrorism. We don’t want to repeat this situation. The one’s who will suffer will be you.’”
The citizens of Diyala have responded to the call. Most of the caches that the 2nd Battalion finds are the result of local people coming forward and giving information to the Iraqi Army. The battalion has been able to work so well with local citizens because they rise above the sunni/shi’a divide as well.
“The Iraqi Army here has no sectarian conflicts,” says Muhammad as he clicks through a set a prayer beads with his free hand. “This brigade was a success because it is a mix of sunni and shi’a.” What is really important he says, is that the men in leadership positions in the brigade and the battalion are good at their jobs.
Lindemann, maneuver and training adviser for the 2nd Battalion MiTT has lived with the battalion for the last four months.
“I just got to know them,” he says. “All they want is peace in their own country.”
Muhammad appreciates the sacrifices that Marines like Lindemann are making for Iraq.
“Anyone who comes from far away to help the people of Iraq – their heart is pure,” says Muhammad. “God save [them] and their families. I wish them good health and long life.”
The bonds that tie the Iraqi Army and the MiTTs go beyond simply fighting and living together. Muhammad still remembers an advisor who worked with him in 2005 in Mosul.
“My advisor was living in Japan,” he says as he smiles.
“When he left he gave me his phone number. I still call him on my cell phone. The connections and the relationships are very beautiful.”
As the chai is finished off, and the cigarillos run out, the MiTT members say their farewells for the evening and walk across the hall to their racks.
Tomorrow they will wake up, put on their gear, and step out into the streets and farms of Diyala side-by-side with men like Capt. Muhammad, working together to bring a new day of peace and security to the people of Iraq.