Free Iraqi Forces: 'Members of the Team' Liberating Iraq
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 10, 2003 They're intimately familiar with Iraqi language and culture, they wear distinctive uniforms, they serve with U.S. civil affairs troops in Iraq -- and they don't like Saddam Hussein.
Who are these guys?
They're members of the Free Iraqi Forces working with U.S. Army and Marine Corps civil affairs units across Iraq, noted Army Reserve Brig. Gen. John H. Kern, commander of the 352nd Civil Affairs Command, Riverdale, Md.
Kern, who's now serving in Umm Qasr, Iraq, is in charge of the 69-member FIF contingent. Today, Kern and two FIF members, Hamid and Ali, talked about FIF's mission in Iraq with Pentagon reporters via satellite teleconference.
"I've got [FIF] soldiers now that are stretched all throughout Iraq with the advancing forces there in Baghdad, Karbala, An Najaf, An Nasiriyah, Basra, and now here in Umm Qasr, where we started when we entered Iraq," Kern explained.
Many FIF members are Iraqi expatriates -- some are Iraqi-Americans -- who received U.S. military training in Hungary. In Iraq they act not only as interpreters, Kern pointed out, but also importantly as liaisons with local officials and the general populace.
For example, the general noted that FIF members are helping U.S. military civil affairs teams in assessing local humanitarian needs for water, food and electricity.
In Umm Qasr, FIF members are working with Iraqi town officials in restoring the water supply, dredging the port and re-establishing the local police and fire departments, Kern pointed out. Umm Qasr's police, he explained, had departed after coalition troops liberated the area. Umm Qasr's new police and fire departments, Kern added, will be staffed with local Iraqis.
FIF members are often sent to areas where they grew up, the general pointed out, which greatly assists communication with local Iraqis.
"If they're from the neighborhood, that certainly speeds everything we're doing in that neighborhood," Kern remarked, adding, "We get to meet the local leaders faster."
There's "an automatic trust built in" with local Iraqis when they see FIF members working alongside U.S. civil affairs units, he added.
And Kern noted that American civil affairs teams in Iraq also rely on FIF members' professional skills. For example, he cited the assistance rendered by a FIF attorney.
"My [civil affairs] lawyers think they've found a treasure trove by being able to sit down and talk to somebody who actually practiced law in Iraq," the general explained.
That sort of professional interaction has been "invaluable," he noted.
Iraqis like interacting with the FIF members, Kern remarked, recalling that in Safwan "the people are very supportive." FIF members, he pointed out, wear a different uniform from U.S. service members and display a distinctive, square "FIF" patch that's worn on the upper left sleeve.
The FIF members "know things about Iraq that you and I will never know just by studying it," Kern pointed out, emphasizing "they're real members of the team" that's liberating Iraq from Saddam's despotic regime.
Hamid and Ali, who have lived in the United States for eight and 12 years, respectively, are thankful that the United States and its coalition partners are liberating their country from the dictator's rule.
"I'm glad to return to Iraq," Hamid exclaimed. "Saddam's regime is done. I mean finished."