ZAIDON, Iraq --
While Fallujah and Ramadi are the shining jewels of the combined efforts of coalition and Iraqi Security Forces in Anbar Province, there still remain smaller towns whose progress is less developed.
One such town is Zaidon. Tucked just a few miles southeast of Fallujah, the sheiks of Zaidon only appointed the first mayor in mid-October. In one of the few markets around town, U.S. and Iraqi forces discovered more than a dozen IEDs in one day, just a few months ago. Coalition Forces only came around to conduct raids.
Today, however, Zaidon is starting to come around. The chief of police was appointed as mayor by a council of sheiks, the traditional method of choosing municipal leadership. On Oct. 22, Marines with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6, worked hand in hand with Ishmael and his Iraqi Police to deliver food bags and school supplies to area markets and schools.
“The main objective of this was to get a partnership between the new mayor and Coalition Forces,” said Gunnery Sgt. Dennis A. Rogers, one of the liaisons between the Marines and the Iraqi people. “This used to be one of the worst areas west of Baghdad, but (2nd Bn., 7th Marines) did a good job establishing IPs and Provincial Security Forces. We’re building on that success.”
That success has come in the form of freedom of movement through the farmlands that mark the area, which hugs a thumb-shaped stretch of the Euphrates River. The freshly tilled soil, green grass and palm groves provide a healthy contrast the expanses of brownish-gray sand so fine some Marines call it moon dust. Cows, sheep and horses graze beside houses and along roadsides. Most families grow enough food to feed themselves and sell a little extra at market, said Mamdu abd al Kareem, son of Sheik Kareem, the head of the Zobai tribe.
The bags of food delivered by seven-ton trucks here contained staples such as lentils, rice and beans. They also contained other essentials such as diapers. There were also school supplies like book bags, pens and pencils. For the vast majority of families, the supplies were a welcome relief on their financial strain. For some, however, it was a tough pill to swallow, said al Kareem. Some men find it a point of pride to be the sole breadwinner of their families, even if the income they generate is barely enough to keep food in their children’s bellies.
For Capt. John Allsup, Company I’s commanding officer, it is an acceptable trade-off. The supply runs also served to take the new mayor around the city centers, introducing him to the locals.
“The food bags are a gesture of goodwill at the end of Ramadan,” Allsup said. “We’re (also) letting the people know there’s a new mayor in the area.”
It is the end of Ramadan that brings the children back to school, but there could be no classes without teachers. While Anbar Province became more violent, teachers abdicated their classrooms to insurgents, who used schools as staging points and safehouses, said Allsup. The flight of teachers led to more students being home schooled. In this heavily agricultural area, studies often gave way, for children old enough, to chores or working at the market.
As peace returned to Zaidon, so did the teachers. Right behind the teachers were students. Now, schools are packed with schoolchildren dressed in vivid oranges, reds and blues, singing songs to help them learn how to spell. Because of the renewed partnership between IPs and Coalition Forces in the area, said Allsup, some sense of normalcy has returned to Zaidon.
“The relationship between us and the IPs is absolutely critical. Lt. Col. Ishamel established the IPs, and they have made it possible for the kids to come back to school after four years,” Allsup said.
While there is still progress to be made, the tone is distinctly hopeful. The task of firmly tying in the local Zaidon government to the district government in Fallujah and the provincial government in Ramadi is crucial to solidifying the gains made in the region.
Though much work remains in Zaidon and other small towns like it, the combined efforts and dedication of Iraqi Police and Coalition Forces help move toward a brighter future for Zaidon’s residents.