SAQLAWIYAH, Iraq -- Iraqi and Marine officials met with city council representatives in the city hall here April 27 to discuss mutual concerns.
The local troop commander and Marine civil-military leaders discussed security and humanitarian issues with city officials, including Saqlawiyah’s mayor, Emad Azziz, chief of police, Maj. Ali Jassem Diyab, and three tribal leaders and sheiks.
Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment personnel and Iraqi soldiers stood guard around city hall as the talks took place.
“Security was one of the biggest issues we discussed at this meeting,” stated Capt. Daniel Zappa, Company A’s commander. “Saqlawiyah’s police department was disbanded just before the push through Fallujah in November (2004), so this has allowed many criminals to run free here.”
The 32-year-old Pittsburgh native said the council and military leaders will look into reestablishing a police force, albeit a provisional one, for the time being.
Major Alaa Al Deen, the commander of the Iraqi troops, and Zappa also urged the council members to “help us help you” by taking an active role distinguishing security concerns, such as identifying insurgents within the town.
Zappa, a 1994 Bucknell University graduate, stated that the council can help the Iraqi and Marine forces identify foreigners to Saqlawiyah.
Additionally, the troops and local leaders addressed civil concerns, such as rebuilding the city’s infrastructure.
“During the push through Fallujah, a lot of refugees came here, so the city doesn’t have enough water, power and essential things to support the amount of people living here right now,” explained Maj. Chris E. Phelps, the civil affairs team leader with the 5th Civil Affairs Group here in direct support of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
According to Phelps, several projects to rebuild Saqlawiyah are underway or in the planning stages.
“We asked the council to come back next week with a prioritized list of projects they would like to see worked on,” Phelps said. “These will be projects the city council, as a collective body, agrees are important.”
Additionally, these projects strengthen the local economy because local contractors are hired to complete the work.
Zappa and Al Deen both called these talks “a breakthrough meeting.”
“This was the first town council meeting they (city officials) have held with this amount of people,” Zappa stated. “We managed to touch base with the town’s leadership, identify goals, and understand where each other were coming from.”
“They see that we’re here to help them, and that they don’t have to fear us,” stated Al Deen. “We hope meetings like these will help community relations.”
Good relations with the community will also help Iraqi Security Forces and Marines root out the remaining insurgents here.
“Up until this point, we’ve been doing our operations based on our own intelligence and imagery,” Zappa explained. “Now, hopefully, the people will start giving us more information (on terrorist whereabouts.)”
According to Phelps, another one of the meeting’s successes was the newfound understanding between the local people and military personnel.
“After talking to the city council, it’s clear that we all want the same things; security, a good place to live and work, and to be able to give more to our children than we had ourselves.”