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Iraqis Greet Marines, Say Bye To GIs
By Scott Schonauer
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 9, 2004

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq Some of the most influential Iraqi leaders and sheiks west of Baghdad greeted incoming Marine commanders and bid farewell to departing Army leaders at an informal tent gathering on Sunday.

The I Marine Expeditionary Force is replacing the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in the country's contentious An Anbar province. In the western portion, the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 7th Marine Regiment is replacing the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which is returning to its home in Fort Carson, Colo., this month.

Iraqi sheiks, police and regional governors met U.S. military commanders at this remote air base about 110 miles west of the capital.

The meeting gave soldiers an opportunity to say "goodbye" and Marines the chance to meet individuals who wield a tremendous amount of provincial power.

Army Col. David Teeples, commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, thanked the regional leaders for their help.

"Now, I would ask for your continued cooperation with the Marine Corps," he said. "And I believe you will find them as dedicated and as passionate about improving Iraq as we were."

The sheiks and governors came from across the western portion of the province, which takes up nearly half the country. They talked with the Americans about the past and future of Iraq while sipping Coca-Cola and munching on cookies and sandwiches.

Since U.S. troops toppled Saddam Hussein's regime last year, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment has helped train and equip 2,500 Iraqi police, 2,000 Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members and more than 2,000 border police officers, Teeples said.

Soldiers in the region have also disposed of more than 11,000 tons of ammunition left over from the old regime.

Col. Craig Tucker, commander of the 7th Marine Regiment, said he hoped to help Iraqi police and defense forces assume greater control of the nation's security.

"We come to your province, your country and your cities as guests to act as a windbreak against those terrorists and criminals who threaten your security," Tucker said.

Sheiks who met privately with the Marine commander expressed a willingness to cooperate. One even invited the colonel to his home.

Army civil affairs soldiers, who are leaving after more than a year in the Middle East, said gaining the trust and friendship of the sheiks is critical. Their clout could help Marines battle insurgents who are trying to wreak havoc in the country.

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars and Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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