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Iraqi army makes first trip into Baghdad

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By U.S. Army Sgt. Jared Zabaldo
Office of Security Transition, Public Affairs

BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Iraqi army made a well-received first foray into the city, here, Thursday, with a single company from the Iraqi Intervention Forces’ 2nd Battalion conducting two foot patrols down the crowded streets of the city’s troubled southern district of Abu Deshir.

The operation, originally designed as a combined IA goodwill and security mission, eventually erupted into a jubilant and peaceful celebration for the local residents as crowds lined the streets with great fanfare.

The patrol marked the beginnings of the IA’s joint Coalition, Iraqi Police Service and IA security efforts in the city.

“I was very happy to see the Iraqi people again and see the situation,” said IIF 2nd Battalion, 2nd Company Commander, Maj. Abbas Jassim Jebir, one of the leaders of the patrol.

“The people know about the new army and the uniforms, supplies, the treatment of the soldiers, and they see us in hi-tech equipment and they believe the Iraqi army can provide security,” Jebir said.

“Most of the men asked us, ‘How can we join this new army,’” he added.

The operation marks the beginnings of the 2nd Battalion’s operations in the city after moving lead elements of the force into the area earlier in the week.

The unit, after spending several months in service north of Baghdad at the Tadji Military Training Base, recently completed two-months of special counter-insurgency training at the base. The balance of the force will join the lead group in the coming weeks and will contribute to the ongoing security mission in the city.

“The intent is to get Iraqis out to provide their own security and to get leaders out to meet local leaders,” said Coalition Military Assistance Training Team, Advisor Support Team 2nd Battalion Senior Advisor, Marine Corps Maj. David E. Lane II – one of only a handful of American servicemen accompanying the patrolling force, Thursday, in an advisory role on the mission.

“They were really motivated to see the reaction,” Lane said, “and with everybody talking to them, I’d say the Iraqis were pretty happy to see the Iraqi army out today.”

In the coming months, Coalition forces will continue to work with the unit and the rest of the Iraqi Security Forces as part of the ongoing effort to provide a trained and effective security element in Iraq.

A small CMATT AST team of ten Marines who have worked with the force since early March will continue to provide advisory assistance as needed. The unit, though, is tasked out by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and after months of training formulates its own mission plans for scheduled operations with employments continuing to be coordinated with other Coalition forces.

“Literally today,” Lane said, speaking on the unit’s overall level of competency, “we were not needed.”

Precisely upon arrival the unit proceeded up the long market-lined street down a roughly one-and-a-half mile stretch of the city covering both sides of the road.

The citizens on hand reacted immediately to the force on the ground with great excitement, honking horns, flashing lights, clapping, and loud words of encouragement from the residential and pedestrian traffic while families on balconies, rooftops, and apartment windows waved and called to the excited troops as they passed by.

Soldiers, at opportune times, in addition, also interacted with the throngs of children following alongside, as the leaders conducted their goodwill information and interaction missions with the local citizens and business people working in the area.

“People told us their problems and requested help with these concerns and asked us about the facts of our mission,” Jebir said.

“We told them that there are more on the way just like us,” said Jebir. “And we told them that we are fighting for the principles of security, stability, and the reconstruction efforts.

For CMATT, a division of the Office of Security Transition specifically tasked with training, equipping, and mentoring the Iraqi armed forces, the event is just part of the ongoing effort to assist the Iraqi government in the training of another 24 Iraqi army battalions in the coming months to bring the full complement up to the originally programmed force of 27 battalions divided amongst nine brigades and three divisions.

The effort should be complete by early February 2005.

“It was like when my dad bought me my first bicycle and the expression he had when he took off the training wheels and I finally rode down the street on my own,” said CMATT AST team member, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. John McKnight.

“I was hoping they would look at these guys as the new face of Iraq,” said McKnight, “and they did.”

“I was happy that they were happy,” McKnight said.

The mission was designed, in addition to the security element, to assure local citizens that the army was now here and more would arrive in the coming weeks to provide security in the city. Operations will cover the gamut of typical line unit missions including patrols, traffic control point, cordon and search, and intelligence missions.

“I feel great about this,” Jebir said. “This dream is coming true, day by day.”

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