FIRM BASE 151, RUTBAH, Iraq - -- In a cement structured room, where the air was filled with cigarette smoke and the faint hint of incense and chai tea, members of Task Force Tarawa assembled with the city leadership here.
Lt. Col. Andrew H. Smith, the task force commanding officer, Capt. Kyle G. Phillips, staff judge advocate for TFT, and 2nd Lt. Kieran R. O’Neil, officer in charge of the civil affairs detachment with TFT, met with Raheem Sabbah Awett, mayor of Rutbah, sheiks and other tribal leaders of the city at the civil military operations center here for a city council meeting.
“The topics for the meetings are normally dictated by current events in the city,” explained O’Neil.
This city council meeting covered a few projects the city leadership and the civil affairs group had been working on including the rebuilding of 10 schools, a new refrigerator system for the city’s morgue, and a landfill that would assist in getting the town’s sanitation department up and running.
Two issues that seemed to spike the interest of all those present where the demilitarizing of the city’s bank and the return of the Iraqi Police to the city.
The bank is currently being used as a firm base for military forces inside the city.
“I want to return to the city what is rightfully theirs,” said Smith.
The announcement of the banks reopening was received with smiles and thumbs up from those present.
“This is a good day for us,” said Awett through an interpreter. “We are happy to hear the bank is going to reopen. This will touch the hearts of the people.”
Recently, 40 Iraqi Police, all of which are local citizens, returned from the police academy to Rutbah. The city hasn’t had a fixed police force in over a year due to corruption and a murder, intimidation campaign.
Smith reinforced the importance of supporting the new police force.
“Here we have locals providing security for locals,” said Smith. “This is a step toward transferring the security of Rutbah to Iraqi led forces. I want to stress that the local leadership and the IPs need to be in sync.”
As with the introduction of any police force in some of the more isolated cities in Iraq, the aspect of some retaliation was expected.
“I want us to work together on the security of the city,” said Smith. “There will be risk for everyone at times; risk for members of this council, risk for my Marines. We can deal with these things together.”
The mayor then touched on the corruption that plagues some Iraqi Police Forces throughout Iraq’s Western Al Anbar Province.
“In some cities, the police work for the judge,” said Awett. “Sometimes the judge becomes the voice of the city and that can lead to corruption within the police force. We will support the police force and work with the judges. Corruption will not be tolerated.”
Smith ended the meeting by elaborating on his mission.
“Coalition Forces have no desire or intent to live in harmony with insurgents,” said Smith. “We will not play the game of you don't bother us, we won't bother you. Coalition Forces will continue to pursue insurgents to capture or kill them. This alone will not accomplish the mission per se, but capture/kill is a significant element toward allowing transition to Iraqi Security Force-led counter-insurgency operations and achieving a secure and stable AO Rutbah.”
Task Force Tarawa is part of Regimental Combat Team 2, a Marine Corps command responsible for more than 30,000 square miles and 5,500 Marines, Sailors and Soliders in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province.