THAR THAR LAKE, Iraq --
Operation Iraqi Freedom is only one American-led operation in the Global War on Terror. The “War in Iraq” is an Iraqi-led war against the extremists who have invaded their country.
From the initial invasion of Iraq to the drop in violence that has recently occurred, fighting those terrorists, whether Al-Qaeda in Iraq or native insurgents, has mainly fell upon the shoulders of the American fighting forces stationed in the country.
Yet more and more the Iraqis are standing up, forming an Iraqi police force and an Iraqi army more than worthy of defending their country from those who would bring only chaos and death.
“And they’re out there doing great things,” 2nd Lt. Michael A. Phillips said of the Iraqi Army he works with.
Phillips, a Perry, N.Y., native, is an intelligence adviser with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade of the 1st Iraqi Army Division. The Marines of the 3-1/1 Military Transition Team, as well as servicemembers with other transition teams throughout the country, constantly work alongside their Iraqi counterparts.
More and more throughout the country, these MiTT’s are stepping back and allowing the Iraqi Army to operate independently. This is allowing the fledgling military force to learn to think and act for themselves, leading to one of the major American goals of OIF - an independent, self-sustaining military force capable of defending Iraq.
“I have a very high standard for the Iraqi Army,” said 2nd Lt. Jeffrey D. Wright, of Murietta, Ga., the effects adviser for 3-1/1 MiTT. “And pretty much everything I see is in keeping in perspective with what I expect of them.”
The Iraqi Army displays their military prowess by conducting missions successfully, without too much American interference. The jundi, or Iraqi soldiers, of 3-1/1, did just that during Operation Lion’s Voice.
Operation Lion’s Voice was a mission created to clear a suspected insurgent hotbed near Thar Thar Lake, a lake surrounded by rural farmland and scarce housing. The enemy in the area, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, used the environment to their advantage, moving from location to location occupying abandoned houses, and storing weapons and explosives there.
But the Iraqi Army had more of an advantage. The people of the area did not want the terrorists in their homeland, so the soldiers used human intelligence to find out where these terrorists were hiding.
“The soldiers built a relationship with these people,” Phillips said. “They went to their houses just to talk, and those relationships paid off.”
“We went with the Iraqis to these people’s houses again and again,” said Wright. “We even brought medicine to a man whose foot had been blown off, and the people just started telling us where to look.”
The soldiers were pointed toward a house where AQI was said to be holding a trophy from a water factory that they bombed.
“We found the engine of the water factory at that house,” said Phillips.
“Now we can help put the factory back together, giving the Iraqis here more clean water, a permanent solution to one problem,” Wright said.
The villagers told the jundi to look in a house just 500 meters away from the one with the engine in it. There they found improvised explosive devices and the materials and explosives to create more.
This was in one hour.
“Deep down the jundi know that with each element found within each cache, that’s one more life saved,” Wright said. “They really value what their security forces are doing and what they stand for.”
Throughout the rest of their time out, the Iraqis found more explosive material, weapons, ski masks, documents and over 50 rocket bodies and separate warheads. They have killed or captured over 40 terrorists.
“The Iraqis showed me a list they found,” Wright said. “It was a night watch list for the terrorists here. It had names of the guys who would stand watch. They may be nicknames, but it’s great intelligence.”
Operation Lion’s Voice highlights may sound like the sheer amount of weapons stripped from the terrorists, but for the Marines of 3-1/1’s MiTT, it is something else altogether.
“It’s tempting to say that the best part of this mission was the caches we found,” said Wright. “But really it was the way the Iraqis took charge and led this operation. Their professionalism and knowledge showed us and the people we dealt with that they are the winning team.”