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thedrifter
02-09-07, 06:12 AM
Marines 'Hit the Jackpot' Near Fallujah
ON Point | Andrew Lubin | February 08, 2007

A telephone system might be unnecessary in the Iraqi tribal culture. Local news spreads faster when it runs word of mouth, from mother to daughter, uncle to nephew, or sheik to sheik. Because of this networking, when the Marines of 4th Platoon, Golf Company, 2/8 raided a house last night, they managed to hit a jackpot. They arrested someone who they had been looking for. More importantly, they also found someone who had been looking for them.

Under the command of Captain Mark Broekhuizen, Golf 2/8 had been making slow inroads in Saqliwiah ("sack-la-wee-ah"), a village on the northwestern outskirts of Fallujah. Finding Iraqi partners to step forward was tough, primarily because of an inability to locate and deal with the local Sheik. Lacking active cooperation from the Sheik and his people, it was difficult to gain the Intel necessary to drive both Islamic fundamentalist and Shia-oriented terror groups from the land.

"AQI is both feared and hated," Capt Broekhuizen said, referring to Al Qaeda in Iraq. "They've been running a brutal terror campaign. No city leaders are left here who will take a leadership role." Marines from Golf Company said they recently fished two bodies out of the local river: a man had been decapitated, and his 4-year old tied to his leg before both were thrown into the river and the little boy drowned. The killings were a product of Al Qaeda terror.

Marines say that they are making progress. Humanitarian missions, census operations, and security patrols have, according to the grunts, reduced the level of AQI violence by over 60% since they arrived in theater a few months ago. But absent local leadership, this progress cannot be sustained.

Last night, 4th Platoon won a small victory in the battle against AQI. Under the command of Lieutenant Anthony Friel, four Marine humvees on patrol spotted a white Toyota parked close to a house along the Euphrates River. Both the Toyota and the house looked suspicious. Quickly, the Marines surrounded the latter, and knocked on the door.

Inside the house were several young men (with dubious identification), women and children, as well as an older man. The squad leader, Corporal Jon Bates, and his Marines thoroughly searched the young Iraqis. After discovering one ID marked in English "Progressive Mosque Security," a subsequent search of the young man's Toyota turned up sophisticated IED triggering devices, a pressure plate and an AK-47. Two were detained.

At the same time, another pair of locals were pushing a small skiff up the river, and seemed to be moving to land at the house. The Marines on the riverbank spotted an AK-47 in the boat's bottom, and they fired a pyrotechnic flare. The locals turned the boat around and fled downriver. The Marines chose not to pursue.

As it turned out, the older gentleman was the real prize. He was Sheik "X", the local Okhash tribal elder, and he was fully aware of how the Marines and Sheiks were cooperating in rebuilding Ramadi thirty miles west (ON Point reported from Ramadi last week). Having tribal connections in the Ramadi area, Sheik X said that he wanted to use it as a model for Marine assistance to drive AQI and the others from his city. He said that he had been "biding his time" before contacting them.

Calmly, the Sheik watched as the Marines detained the two young men in the house, volunteering that if they were "bad guys" he was happy to see them go. "You and I are going to find a way to work together to make this area better," he told Lt Friel, "like Ramadi." The Sheik added that it was "Iranians and foreigners" who were destabilizing his tribal area. "Iranians are forcing out the doctors and teachers. Soon this town will look like Afghanistan."

He invited the Lieutenant and others to share his dinner, where the discussions and negotiations continued. Sheik X wants the "same deal" as the Marines and Sheiks cut in Ramadi. In that area, the Marines handle overall security, and permit the locals and tribal elders a degree of freedom to handle local security.

The Sheik repeatedly emphasized his interest in working with the Marines in order to protect his tribe against the Shia. Next to halting AQI's brutal terror campaign against the Sunni tribes, the largest worry in Anbar Province is that Shia -- a generic term ranging from Iranians to the Prime Minister Maliki's government in Baghdad -- will stamp out the Sunni in Anbar.

In their own small-scale way, the residents of Saqliwiah are pushing back against both AQI and the Shia. They've re-opened a maternity clinic, a kindergarten, and are filling potholes and repaving the streets. Golf Co. supports such endeavors if asked, but Sunni contractors and workers are still regularly targeted by AQI snipers. The work progresses, however slowly.

An additional complication for Capt Broekhuizen and his Marines is the nationalistic Party of Islam. This faction is made up of old-regime Sunni army soldiers who have no religious interest, but want the American invaders out. This group does not target civilians, but does not resist AQI either.

The Marines have addressed the Party of Islam by extending overtures acknowledging that there is 'military-level respect' between them. They want to establish a common ground against AQI by building a secure Saqliwiah, with negotiations following.

A truce or an understanding with the Party of Islam would resolve many issues. But even without such an agreement, Iraqi domestic politics remain bewildering and fluid. So if Sheik X believes that helping the Marines of Golf Co. 2/8 helps him and his tribe, then last night was good for everyone in Saqliwiah.

Except for Al Qaeda in Iraq.

ON Point's Andrew Lubin is with the Marines in Iraq. The lead photo of the Marines searching the Toyota was taken by U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Clinton Wood.

Ellie