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February 14, 2006

Live from Iraq: Working my way out of a job

BY LT. COL. JOHN G. NORRIS
U.S. ARMY 4TH BATTALION

23RD INFANTRY OF THE STRYKER BRIGADE

“The new year brings hope and promise for a new beginning,” said Mayor Khalif of Hamam Al Lil.

We are celebrating “Mosul one year after,” which recalls the fall of Mosul and highlights the sacrifices and achievements since. The Mayor’s statement could not be more apt for a town that once housed an insurgency that produced many of the most dangerous terrorists in Mosul.

Coincidentally, just a week earlier an Iraqi police traffic control point was attacked by three armed terrorists, who were caught off-guard and began shooting at police. The police were the victors this time. A year ago, this was not the case; police were killed or run off, and buildings were destroyed and looted.

This time, some of my soldiers responded to the sound of gunfire and helped police. Evidence was collected, photographs taken. The police had no way of knowing it at the time, but they had just killed two high level terrorists who were responsible for many beheadings dating to the fall of Mosul. We have tracked these terrorists for some time, and we are happy to see them off the streets. More importantly for me, this was an independent Iraqi police operation conducted without the direct assistance of my forces, which indicates the Iraqi forces are becoming self-sufficient.

Hamam Al Lil is now the example of success in Mosul. This small industrial, tourist and university town, on the East side of the Tigris River about 30 kilometers from downtown Mosul, is poor but has enormous potential for economic growth and prosperity by way of three major industries: a propane distribution point, concrete factory and oil depot.

Before the war, this town was a tourist town because of hot springs adjacent to the Tigris. Today, tourists no longer come to soak in the warm baths. The adjacent riverside park has deteriorated. That all happened when terrorists assumed operational control.

But with local determination and perseverance, backed by the support and muscle of coalition forces, terrorist activity has been gradually eliminated to the point where legitimate security could be established. That has allowed the construction of many community projects, which have helped coalition forces gain local trust. For example, we have completed numerous construction projects — an Iraqi police district headquarters (previously destroyed by terrorists), several schools, health clinics and roads. We’ve nearly completed a fire station and an Iraqi Security Forces regional training center. On the drawing board is a bridge to link the two sides of the river and provide a critical lateral trade route.

The largest project my unit supervises is the construction of the regional training center at the site of the former Iraq agricultural university. This was once a thriving university, providing jobs and income to this community and drawing students from throughout the Middle East. The curriculum has changed, but this institution is again providing instruction.

The regional training center is a large construction project that employed hundreds of locals for many months, providing not only income but, more importantly, a skill set that will help them continue working when this project is complete. We’ve invested heavily into this community, and it’s paying off.

The coalition selected this site to convert to a training center because of its size and location. The RTC is now the home of one of Iraq’s six Army training centers. It is located within my area of operations, which means it’s my responsibility. The courses are managed by U.S. Army Reserve training units with Iraqi instructors. When complete and fully operational, this RTC will be self-sufficient — Iraqi-led and Iraqi-trained. We are all now in the process of training Iraqi noncommissioned officers and medics. We have already completed a course for sergeants, and our first medic class is ongoing. We will soon begin a junior officer development course to provide leadership and tactical training to junior Iraqi leaders. We also plan to open a police academy on the same compound to provide basic police training to more than 200 police at a time.
The result of the RTC will be a sustained training base capable of producing more tactically proficient ISF leaders and soldiers who can conduct independent operations. As more soldiers receive quality training, this will improve the overall readiness of Iraqi units and let them assume complete control of their country. That means I am working myself out of a job.

LEO is publishing occasional reports by Louisville native John Norris, who holds a key Army command in Mosul, Iraq. Contact him at leo@leoweekly.com.