By Jim Garamone
SAMAWAH, Iraq, June 22, 2006 – All coalition troops will leave Iraq's Muthanna province by the end of July, making it the country's first province to be responsible for its own security since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi officials said here today.
U. S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Rudy Wright, the director of strategic communications for the coalition, congratulated the province's governor and his people on their accomplishment during a trip to the province's capital. "Your promise and the promise of the people who live in this province represent the vision of unity, security and prosperity for which not only the people of Iraq are with you, but the people of the world are behind you," Wright said during a news conference at the governor's house.
"On this occasion, I'd like to thank God for this gift and our people in this province -- all our families, all our tribes, all our sheikhs, all our educated people and all our young people who stood with us, ... and the people who sacrifice -- the police and the army -- for us," Gov. Mohammed-Ali Hassan Abbas al-Hassani said. "This is what we've been striving for since we got here," said British Army Col. Giles Vosper-Brown, the commander of coalition troops in the province. Iraqi police and soldiers have been handling all the security and emergency calls in the province for the last four months.
On June 19, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the withdrawal of all coalition troops from the province. This includes British, Australian and Japanese troops. Japanese Self-Defense Force engineers will redeploy home. British and Australian troops will redeploy out of the province to other areas in Iraq. Vosper-Brown said the coalition will maintain close communications with Iraqi security forces in the province and, if needed, can help. But, he said, he believes the Iraqis can handle any eventuality.
Under Saddam Hussein, the province was totally ignored. Since arriving in March 2003, the coalition has had an active civil-military outreach program. The Japanese have donated more than $400 million to the effort in the province. Other coalition members have donated more than $40 million. All this is in a province with just over 500,000 people, mostly gathered in the northern third of the province, around the Euphrates River. The British led in helping to refurbish or build more than 600 kilometers of roads in the province. The British and Japanese replaced seven major bridges.
The Japanese built three new water treatment plants and refurbished nine water purification plants. The coalition also replaced water and sewage mains in Samawah and constructed two large pumping stations. The coalition built a major powerhouse, and Japanese engineers have let contracts for a 60-megawatt generator. The coalition rehabilitated 35 schools in the province, 32 primary health centers, rebuilt and stocked hospitals, and built the As Samawah Justice Building.
And the projects don't end because coalition troops leave. Plans call for replacing the main bridges over the Euphrates, building a footbridge over the river at Samawah and installing power lines to isolated areas. The police at the governor's house are proud of their accomplishments. Officers said they run their own police stations and handle all "115" calls -- their version of 911. Through a translator, they said they had all been trained at the police academies in Basra or in Amman, Jordan. They said they have all the equipment they were promised and the vehicles they need. And they said they are paid in full and on time. British and Australian troops are also proud of the accomplishments. "This really is Sleepy Hollow," said Alan Lawson, the British political adviser in the province. "But it took a lot of work to get it that way."
Vosper-Brown said the Iraqis still face tremendous challenges. "There are some very bad men in the city," he said. "They would turn back the clock if they could, but the Iraqi security forces can handle them." Economically, the province needs to find jobs for its young men, and encourage outside investment. Both Wright and the governor said the province can be an example to the rest of Iraq. Officials traveling with the general said Iraqis in other provinces in the south could assume their security responsibility soon. Others, in the north, could see the example and move forward also.