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Flight Shows Difficulties of Policing the Iran-Iraq Border

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

FORT TARIK, Iraq, May 7, 2006 – Flying to this fort illustrates the challenges the Iraqi border police face in securing the frontier.

After leaving Baghdad and its rivers, the groves of palm trees give way to irrigated fields. These give way to a large swamp covered with reeds and crisscrossed by a myriad of trails. At the edge of the swamp, the green disappears and miles of open desert lay ahead.

For miles in any direction there is no trace of life. Where water once stood, there are large pans of salt that reflect the sun and drive the temperature up. Past the desert and all the way to the Iranian border, there are plants and Iraqis raise cattle, sheep and goats in the area.

And all the way, the landscape is studded with fighting positions built during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980 to 1988. Even though the region is closest to Baghdad, the Iranians never really tried to push through to the Iraqi capital via this route: Iraqi officials said there is no way to supply an army.

Iraq's border with Iran here is not defined by a natural feature. Fort Tarik is located about two kilometers from Iran. Officials said there is a small fence that marks the border in some places, but mostly it is open.

For generations, herdsmen have driven their animals back and forth over the border in search of good forage. Smuggling is a long and almost honored tradition in the region, and families have engaged in the illicit trade for generations, Iraqi officials said. The families know the region and know the safest routes.

There are some paved roads, and they cross bridges over mostly nonexistent streams.

In the northern part of the district, there are hills and mountains that the Iraqi border police must contend with. In the southern part of this district, it is the wide-open spaces. In both areas, Iraqis in trucks or on foot patrol the areas between the border forts.

The forts themselves look like an Arabic version of German hill forts along the Rhine River. Fort Tarik is four-sided with turrets on each corner. The fort contains living space and sleeping quarters for the border policemen. Berms paved with sea stones and topped with coils of razor wire protect the forts. There is little shade.

The Iraqi border police joke about the weather. They say the 110-degree heat is "just a spring day." They tell visitors to come back in July when the real heat arrives.

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