Wednesday, March 11, 2009

OIF Summary, March 11, 2009: Coalition Forces Meet to Move Iraq Forward

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2009 -- U.S. forces in Iraq increasingly fill their days with something not thought of as a traditional military role -- taking part in meetings.

In recent days alone, U.S. troops have hosted forums and meetings on everything from fostering progress in Diyala province and Balad to improving conditions for women nationwide to fielding battle tanks to the Iraqi army. All are designed to move Iraq toward self-sufficiency.

One local sheik in Diyala province viewed a March 3 meeting there with provincial leaders and leaders from the U.S. 25th Infantry Division’s 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team as so important that he attended despite being injured in a recent bomb attack on his vehicle. He said he wanted to settle tribal differences and find a way forward for Diyala.

"I am here despite my condition," the sheik said. "I felt it was important for me to be here, because we must set aside our petty differences and come together."

The sheiks and provincial and military leaders discussed easing tribal tensions and improving communication, essential services and security throughout the area.

In Balad, military and provincial reconstruction team leaders hosted a banking and finance conference with Iraqi business investors, entrepreneurs and local government leaders March 4 to discuss how investors can find businesses to invest in to develop the local economy.

Soldiers from 3rd Sustainment Command and the 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, worked with the PRT to provide a safe environment for about 80 economic leaders, including three city managers, to discuss business opportunities.

Many profitable projects are in the district, but investment and business knowledge is needed to build businesses in the area, Balad Mayor Amir Abdul-Hadi said to the group.

"We will support you with the security issue," Abdul-Hadi told the business leaders. "We're going to support you with anything you need to build your business or factories for the sake of developing this area."

Joe Pinon, leader of the U.S. State Department reconstruction team, said he meets with Iraqi investors every day who want to invest in Iraqi businesses. The coalition can help the Iraqis by connecting them together so they can work among themselves, he said.

"The best solution is to have Iraqis meet each other and invest with each other," Pinon said.

Army Maj. Rebecca B. McElwan, commander for the 106th Finance Management Company, said Iraqi provincial leaders do not get together on a regular basis. She said conferences like this one help to support the Iraqi banking industry.

"Bankers are leaders in their communities," McElwan said. "They represent the banking community, and the business community as well."

In Baghdad, soldiers with Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq marked “International Day” on March 8 by holding a Women’s Forum. The forum was designed to bring Iraqi women together with women from the command to discuss cultural differences and similarities, while building relationships amongst women from different nations.

“We wanted to create an atmosphere of open dialogue so the women could feel they had a voice and were not just being talked to,” British Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Samantha Emmett, chief of the command’s Defense Affairs directorate, said. “The aim was for the Iraqi women to find out more about Western culture and values from a female perspective and have a better understanding of the different roles women fulfill in the military, ministry of defense organizations, police, judicial and educational systems.”

Topics covered included the role of women in the police, life as a middle school principal, females in the judiciary system, women in Western society and women in business.

Marine Corps Maj. Kimberley Donahue shared with the Iraqi women her experiences as a woman in the military. “Only 6 percent of the U.S. Marine force is female, but I persevered to get where I wanted. Even in a restricted service, you can still excel and be a leader,” she said.

Army Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, MNSTC-I commanding general, encouraged the Iraqi women to be patient with progress.

“The strides that women are making both in the military and in other fields of work are breaking down barriers and moving toward equality,” he said. “You have to be patient -- look where we were just five years ago. With such things as infrastructure, oil, water and educated people, Iraq has everything to be not just a leader, but the leader in the region.”

Also in Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi program officers for fielding battle tanks met to discuss the recent procurement of 140 M1A1SA Abrams main battle tanks to the Iraqi army’s armored units.

They met, along with General Dynamics’ representatives, March 4 at the coalition’s Victory Base Complex to discuss the fielding, which is in the early stages with introductory training under way at the Besmaya Combat Training Center.

The tanks are scheduled to arrive during the next 18 months in groups of 35. A presentation at the meeting provided information on training for tank crews, a spare parts logistics program that includes warehousing and inventory control, and a security agreement for sensitive weapons and communications systems featured in the M1A1SA Abrams.

"Properly fielded and maintained, the M1A1 represents a quantum leap in the modernization of the Iraqi army,” a U.S. representative said. “The survivability, lethality and agility of this tank in a desert environment have been proven repeatedly."

(Compiled from Multinational Corps Iraq and U.S. Central Command news releases.)

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