KHABAZZA, Iraq --
Marines and local Iraqis stand around the front door of a house as groups of men congregate inside mingling and drinking chi tea. After about an hour of conversation, the Marines and Iraqis leave the house and make their way through the village toward a white building where armed Iraqi guards provide overwatch from the rooftop.
Marines from Civil Affairs Team 6 Detachment West, Civil Affairs Group, Regimental Combat Team 8, attended an Iraqi school opening in Iraq’s Ninewa province, April 29. The school opening comes after months of hard work by the Civil Affairs Group and the Iraqi people.
“This renovation project will prove to be very helpful to the people of Khabazza,” said Iemad Mahmood Shett, lead contractor in the school renovation project. “Before it was hard to send kids to Sinjar for school. Now that there is a bigger school in the village, more children will have the opportunity to attend.”
The village official, Jamal Dham Muhammad, hosted Marines and Iraqis at his home the day of the school opening. The sub-Mayor of Tallabtah, Abdulrhman Khaled, also attended the event.
The renovations to the school included two additional classrooms, new lights and ceiling fans, two new water tanks, a fresh-coat of paint, and stairs for the guards to gain access to the building’s roof.
“In the past the villagers were suffering and their children were missing an opportunity to become educated,” commented Khaled. “Education is very important, so we want to work hard to give the people a new school so they can have a better life.”
Muhammad also mentioned the affects of having a new school in the village. “Before the school was remodeled, teachers and students worked long hours, now that we have more classrooms children can finish classes earlier and teachers can work with more students,” Muhammad said. “The rebuilding of our school has helped to solve one of our biggest problems.”
The Iraqi people aren’t the only ones to see the benefits of rebuilding the school.
“It was rewarding to be able to give a small village a little more hope,” said Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Lovely, officer-in-charge of CAT-6. “This project was a great experience for my Marines. I have a lot of young Marines, so it’s good for them to be able to go out and work with the Iraqi people.”
The Iraqi people also talked highly about the Coalition forces that came to assist them in starting and finishing the project.
“Before, we requested help to expand the school but no one really came to our aid in the past, but the Coalition forces have recently come and have assisted us greatly,” Muhammad interjected.
“We’re very happy to have Coalition forces come in to help us,” Khaled said. “Coalition forces have resources that we don’t have, so with their help we’re able to complete bigger projects that will benefit our people.”
Not only does the assistance of the Coalition forces help stimulate the Iraqi infrastructure, but it also helps build stronger relationships between the Iraqi people and Coalition forces.
“When people used to think about Coalition forces the first thing that came to their minds was guns and shooting,” Khaled said. “When our people see them helping us now it changes their views.”
“They have earned the trust of our people,” Muhammad added. “Our people now believe that Coalition forces are here to help us.”
The Marines involved in the project also noticed the change in the relationships with the local populace.
“When we first got here they were quiet and didn’t talk much,” Lovely said. “When the project began they opened up more, and once it was completed it seemed like they started to consider me as a brother. It’s like they went from having no hope at all to having hope in us.”
As Marines and Iraqis approach the school a few words were spoken, after which sub-Mayor Khaled took a pair of scissors and cut the banner in front of the school symbolizing its re-opening. In that instance, the Iraqi people not only received more hope for their country, but more trust was established in the growing relationship between the Iraqi people and Coalition forces.
For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/iimeffwd.