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1st Marine Expeditionary Force Commander Praises Unit, Plans Final Turnover

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2003 – If all goes as planned, the U.S. Marine operational presence in southern Iraq will not be needed after the first week of October, said Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, during a Pentagon briefing here today.

After five months of stabilization and security operations, the 1st MEF transferred four of five provinces in southern Iraq to the Polish-led Multinational Division Central-South on Sept. 3. After the Aug. 29 bombing in Najaf, the general said the Marines stayed to provide a sense of security. "We plan a final turnover (for Najaf) in the next few days," he added.

The general praised the work and commitment of his troops. "I am almost as proud of the Marines, sailors and soldiers for their performance and conduct during the stabilization phase as I was during the attack up through Iraq into Baghdad and beyond. In the attack, they demonstrated aggressiveness, raw courage and the ability to deal with any scenario. During stabilization ops, they dealt firmly with the local population, but that was tempered with compassion, professionalism and the ability to deal with any scenario."

There were more than 330 attacks against Marines and others during the five months, said Conway. "Many Iraqis were killed and many more captured or detained, because our methods were always to respond to force with even greater force, and Marines normally hit what they shoot at," he added. "However, for every attack there were an equal number of Iraqi warnings that helped us avoid attacks, and therefore casualties." Although many Marines have been wounded, the general said, they didn't lose a single Marine to hostile fire.

Since Marines usually don't participate in nation building and have no consolidated doctrine for it, a set of guidelines was developed. Chief among these was for Marines to treat Iraqis as they would like to be treated were the situation reversed. The general said they sought Iraqi leaders at the local level and asked them to help focus efforts at reconstruction.

Another area of emphasis focused on the children. "The children of Iraq represent the future," he said. "We made every effort to rebuild the schools, clean up the playgrounds and hand out soccer balls. We held the belief that it's hard for a man to be angry with those who are doing good things for his children."

Conway said he found the people of Iraq to be "industrious, intelligent, very knowledgeable and very interested" in what was to be the future of their country.

The general said, "(We) must continue to mature the Iraqi police, resource the Iraqi militia and oversee revitalization of the new Iraqi army so that the next time there is a transfer of authority, it will be between a multinational division and the people of Iraq."


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