CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq --
When Lt. Cmdr. Kobena Arthur arrived in Iraq for the first time in September 2008, he pledged to make an impact in the far reaches of the western Al Anbar desert.
Arthur, battalion chaplain for 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 8, focused his efforts on aiding more than 200 Rutbah-area widows through a weekly food distribution program.
Nearly a half-ton of rice and 627 parcels of food have been delivered to the city and redistributed to the local widows by the Iraqi Police and city council since Arthur’s arrival in Iraq. Each parcel contains enough food for a family of four to eat well for several weeks.
“This program is unique in its own way simply because we have the imam who has bought into it,” Arthur said. Once it had the imam’s support, it took off, he said.
Mahmoud Ahmed Nudin Obid, the imam of Rutbah, has worked closely with Arthur over the past six months. Many of the women helped by Arthur’s initiative were widowed during the initial Coalition invasion of Iraq or during the insurgency which has ravaged the city in recent years. Some of their husbands were shot at checkpoints, others were killed while planting improvised explosive devices, or during bombing attacks. A handful died of natural causes, Obid said.
Rutbah, about 20 miles east of Arthur’s base at Camp Korean Village, is a city of approximately 20,000, and the largest population center in the 2nd Battalion’s area of responsibility.
According to both the Bible and the Holy Koran, Christianity and Islam each stipulate that the faithful should take care of their respective society’s widows and orphans.
“According to the Koran,” said Obid in an earlier interview. “If you help the crying of the widows, God will bless you. We must take care of them … this is our religion. We love everybody. Our God orders us to open our hearts toward others. There is no difference between Christians, Jews and Muslims. Our goal is to live and work in peace.”
In November, Obid became the first Muslim religious leader to visit Camp Korean Village since Marines first occupied the base in 2004. Obid is a member of the local city council but generally meets with the chaplain as a religious peer.
The two occasionally discuss doctrine, but more often outline and coordinate Coalition assistance to the local widows, and determine how they can work together to improve the quality of life for the people of Rutbah.
Coalition troops won favor with the local Iraqis by not overlooking religious issues or ignoring the fact that Islam is woven into almost every facet of everyday life here, Obid said through an interpreter. He added that time and additional aid from the U.S. will help the widows overcome their resentment for their losses.
Regardless of how the women became widows, Arthur and Obid are working together to help them - no questions asked.
For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/iimeffwd.