Marines in Najaf

Lt. Eric Knapp:

"MY friends and family back in the states are frustrated because every time Najaf - the city in southern Iraq where my unit has been stationed - is in the news, the reports are of conflict between the U.S. forces and armed militias. To hear the media tell it, America has done nothing to improve the infrastructure or security, and the Iraqi public is volatile and seeking revenge.
This is not the Najaf I know. Here's the story lived by those who have worked hand-in-hand with the locals since the end of combat operations: the U.S. Marines.

"From the day it was given sole responsibility for the area, First Battalion, Seventh Marines (1/7) worked with the local governing council and religious leaders. Knowing the customs, culture and religion was crucial to the success of peacekeeping here in the Shia heartland.

"Governed by 1/7 battalion commanders Lt. Col. Chris Conlin and (after Aug. 26) Lt. Col. Chris Woodbridge, Najaf quickly recovered from the war. It began repairing infrastructure that Saddam Hussein had neglected for decades.

"Major projects for the unit included bringing the power plant up to optimal performance, ensuring local law enforcement was trained and equipped, repairing and reopening many schools and providing supplies and desks for the eager students.

"None of that made the news back home. But on Aug. 29, a giant explosion broke the peace here. It came just outside the Imam Ali Shrine, the country's most holy site, just after Friday prayers."

"...Those scenes made TV screens and headlines around the world. All reports shared one thing in common: Najaf was in chaos.

"Not true. Not one violent act or anti-American demonstration occurred in the wake of the bombing. Quite the opposite: Mourners just outside the Imam Ali Mosque cheered when two suspects in the bombing were handed over to coalition forces.

"Two days after the murder, a funeral procession took Hakim's body to its final resting place and broke up. Mourners from other cities shuffled to their taxis and buses and went home. The citizens of Najaf went quietly to bed."

"...in a survey just a week later, 72 percent felt safe and secure, while 86 percent felt that Najaf was doing better than neighboring provinces.

"The surveys also gauged our performance: In the earlier one, only 53 percent thought the coalition was doing a good job in Najaf. But in the later one, 61 percent felt the coalition was doing a good job and 75 percent believed it was doing all it could to make things better."



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