SINJAR CITY, Iraq (Nov. 21, 2008) --
In war, every Marine is as much a statesman as a rifleman.
Iraq is no different.
Military Police and Transportation Platoon Marines facilitated a meeting between U.N. and U.S. State Department officials, and Sinjar City’s key leaders here, Nov. 19.
“Basically we’re trying to expand U.N. assistance (and) it’s the right time now to start expanding because it’s been more stable,” said Maki Shinohara, a U.N. official from Tokyo.
The meeting couldn’t have come at a better time. Sinjar’s people are in dire need of infrastructure improvements, such as water and electricity.
“This (mission) was part of the reconstruction and rebuilding effort of Iraq, that’s why we took them there, so they could help rebuild Iraq,” said 2nd Lt. Jason J. Gates, executive officer, Combat Logistics Company 19, 1st Marine Logistics Group.
Gates, 31, from Douglas, Wyo., said being a statesman was as important as being a rifleman in counterinsurgency operations.
“Sure, we’re not fighting insurgents by providing the people with water and medical care. By showing the Iraqi people that we’re trying to help build their city, it’s going to show that we’re here to help,” Gates said.
The officials invited Gates into the meeting, which included community leaders such as mayors, doctors, councilmen and senior members of local Iraqi Security Forces.
“My initial thought was that I have nothing to do with any foreign relations whatsoever, but when I got in there and I started talking to them, I realized I was a representative for the United States Marine Corps,” Gates said. “I tried to tell them that we could offer them security and help drive out the insurgency in that area.”
Sinjar City’s people did not worry so much about security in the beginning of the war. Because Coalition Forces pushed from the south, Sinjar missed much of the initial kinetic aspects of Operation Iraqi Freedom; but refugees poured into the city, stressing it’s already lacking infrastructure.
“We have to make sure the local populace does not blame the refugees for their problems. We hope that (internally displaced people) are absorbed by the host community. More infrastructure, schools, water, electricity, will enable that absorption,” said Charlie Lynch, Hereford, England, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.
With 44 thousand internally displaced families, Sinjar City has been pushed past its breaking point. Couple the increased population with a fleeing insurgency, which has taken refuge in the northern provinces of Iraq, and Sinjar is in desperate need of a solution.
“We are happy that (the Marines) are here,” said one tribal leader, “we are here, we are ready for you, and we will help you.”
While Marines conduct counter-insurgency operations here, interdicting insurgent actions and facilitating key leader engagements both hold equal weight in mission accomplishment.
“We’re not here just to kill bad guys, we’re here to help the Iraqis, we’re here to continue defeating the insurgency,” said Lance Cpl. Daniel Atizol, motor transportation operator, CLC-19, 1st MLG.
Atizol said civil reconstruction plays as much of a role in OIF as the elimination of al Qaeda in Iraq.
“We’re here to continue defeating the insurgency as they appear, but we’re also helping the Iraqi people to become structured, to develop as a government and as a society,” said Atizol, 23, from Warwick, R.I.
Atizol and other Marines with CLC-19 said they felt honored to escort the U.N. officials and play a role in the reconstruction of Iraq.
They weren’t the only ones who felt honored.
“The Iraqis and us, everyone is so excited you are here,” said a U.S. State Department official who preferred to remain anonymous. “They are excited because they know that Marines can be your best friend, or your worst enemy.”
The Marines’ efforts for the day were more focused on friendship, and did not go unnoticed. Sinjar’s officials and citizens alike were appreciative of the MLG’s dedication.
“They have 1,850 kids going to one school, with only one teacher,” said Gates as he debriefed his Marines at the end of the day. “This meeting had to happen, and the U.N. officials were not only thankful, but impressed with our professionalism.”
The Marines of CLC-19, 1st MLG, make up one of the elements of the first Marine Air Ground Task Force outside al Anbar province in Iraq since 2004. They traveled to the Ninawah province to kick off COIN operations aimed at stamping out the insurgency just west of the restive city of Mosul.