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
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
"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,"
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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