Photo Information

SAQLAWIYAH, Iraq - An Iraqi policeman waves to a citizen while patrolling through the streets here recently. Saqlawiyah had no police force until several months ago, when U.S. Marines helped facilitate their entry back into the city. Currently, the policemen patrol the rural township's streets to maintain civil order and acquaint themselves with the citizens, as Marines continue to train them on community policing and public relations skills.

Photo by Cpl Mike Escobar

Civil order blossoms in rural Iraq thanks to Alpha 1/6

9 Sep 2005 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

Amidst the news of political strife and an insurgency refusing to yield, a seed of hope for Iraq’s future has started to grow in this small, rural township outside Fallujah. Young men like Lance Cpl. Mathew Liner watch over the growth to ensure that someday it becomes as strong as an oak tree. Twenty-three-year-old Liner is an infantryman with Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, a unit currently helping train the local Iraqi Security Forces while conducting counter-insurgency operations beside them. They have operated here since April, but Liner said recently he has seen some of the greatest progress take place here. “We’ve been helping provide security for this station for the past month and a half,” stated the Palm City, Fla. native, explaining how Company A Marines and Iraqi soldiers serve as sentries for Saqlawiyah’s police headquarters. “The insurgents see us here, so it lets them know the police aren’t something to be messed with.” Shortly after Company A and ISF personnel established a base of operations here, local and city officials met to discuss mutual security concerns. The Saqlawiyah city council informed the troops that their city had been without a police force since Coalition forces wrested nearby Fallujah from the insurgents’ grip in 2004. While cooperating with the local officials, the Marines provided a secure environment for the Iraqi police forces to slowly trickle back into Saqlawiyah. Now, men like Liner help secure the downtown station that currently houses the city’s law enforcement officials. “The police run their own show around here. We’re just here to provide area security and some oversight,” Liner said. As the Iraqi soldiers often do in this battalion’s area of operations, Saqlawiyah’s policemen conduct patrols independent of the Marines. They use their time out in town to interact with their fellow citizens and let the community know that the ‘boys in blue’ are back and here to stay. “While we’re patrolling, we see if anyone needs our help, and we look out for insurgents and suspicious activities,” explained 2nd Lt. Shihab Ahmad Kaboor, a Saqlawiyah police officer who was unemployed until being hired by the force in June. “The people have been very happy to see us around once again. They ask us many questions, and always offer us things to eat and drink when we pass by their businesses.” As Kaboor and his men comb the city streets, Coalition personnel behind the scenes continue brainstorming ways to better train and equip the officers. Staff Sgt. Jose Mercado works as a police trainer with the Mobile Training Team, a group of reservists who work as civilian law enforcement officials while stateside. He has been operating out of Saqlawiyah’s police station since August, tackling supply and logistics issues to make the Iraqi police mission ready. “At first, the police complained about not being paid or not being properly equipped to go on patrol,” explained Mercado, who works as a New York Police Department policeman while in the U.S. “They still have some minor issues to resolve, but for the most part, we’ve seen a lot of progress in the way these guys operate. The amount of policemen showing up to work everyday has increased by about 25 to 30 percent, and we have a fully operational facility.” Mercado added that his team is working to acquire patrol vehicles, more ammunition and bullet-proof vests for these policemen. In the meantime, the MTT Marines will continue training the Iraqi police on community policing skills, public relations and human rights issues, all of which are things a keeper of civil order should know, Mercado said. The team will also teach the policemen how to operate around people while dressed in plain clothes, a skill Mercado said they will implement during the upcoming elections in October. “Our overall focus is to get these guys out there so that the public can feel safe,” he continued. “They’re getting better and better all the time. They’ve pretty much been on cruise control for the past few days.” As the number of Iraqi policemen continues to grow and they become increasingly proficient, the Iraqi soldiers and Marines like Liner will continue maintaining their vigil over the station. Liner said that seeing these policemen operate independently reminds him of the progressive social environment he and his fellow Marines helped create during their five months here. “The people in Saqlawiyah don’t have to live under the insurgents’ strong arm tactics any more,” he stated. “We’ve helped make it safer for the community. Having the Iraqi police here now takes some weight off our shoulders, too.” Liner’s battalion will soon return to the safety and comforts of their homes, but for men like Kaboor, the battle against terrorism here will continue. “When the Marines leave, we will be ready to totally take over this police station,” Kaboor said. “Even though it’s dangerous out here, we will continue helping the people resolve their problems. I am proud to be serving my country.”