By Maj. Michelle Coghill, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 29, 2007 - Coalition commanders and Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement leaders earlier this month held a conference at Wasit Border Headquarters, one kilometer from the Iraqi-Iranian border, to discuss issues involving the Zurbatiya port of entry to Iran. After three helicopters quickly touched down with 3rd Infantry Division Commander Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch; Army Maj. Gen. Michael Jones, commander of the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team; Army Brig. Gen. James Yarbrough, Iraq Assistance Group commander; and Army Brig. Gen. James Huggins, deputy commander of 3rd ID, the visit began with a short convoy to the border.
Maj. Gen. Rasheed Gasdban Thueinv Adbulla, commander of the Iraqi Border Enforcement Department's 3rd Region; Maj. Gen. Ali Hashem Al Baddi, the department's port of entry director; and Brig. Gen. Sami Raheem Wahab Nasvalkh Al Rubajaal, director of the Zurbatiya port of entry, gave the commanders a quick tour of the border site.
Following the tour, the group met to discuss plans for the port of entry, which sits 120 kilometers east of Baghdad. "It is important that all the key players ... meet with the appropriate commanders so we can measure progress and come up with an action plan on how things can be done," Lynch said. "Ultimately, progress is measured in saving lives.
"As a tactical commander, I want to block the flow of accelerants of violence from the Iranian militia," he said. "This is an exceptional situation, with terrorists challenging us from the left and the right. The (ports of entry) play huge roles in securing safe borders for protection of the people. So the betterment of the POEs is a huge issue."
Of the 19 official ports of entry identified by coalition forces, the Zurbatiya site is the only fully functional site that processes both pedestrians and cargo, with an average of 18,000 travelers and 1,500 trucks weekly. Georgian soldiers with working dogs help with border operations.
"We are here to help General Rasheed focus on this POE. We can make Zurbatiya as the model POE for entrance to Iraq," Lynch said.
Department of Border Enforcement officials hope to have Zurbatiya operating as a fully manned, highly secure, standard-size port of entry with a trained, effective and disciplined armed force. Yarbrough said reinforcing key ports of entry is an important initiative under way by Multinational Corps Iraq and Multinational Force Iraq.
"We're assisting the Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement to employ leading technologies and improve procedural policies and techniques," Yarbrough said. "The goal is for the Iraqis to better preserve their sovereignty, protect Iraqi citizens, and shield against foreign fighters, contraband and accelerants to violence."
Rasheed noted that as "time progresses, things are improving and will continue to improve, especially over the next three months."
A tower was recently constructed to observe the Iranian transload area, where trucks load and reload for cargo shipments across the border. Plans include constructing a transload area at the border to allow neutral observation between the two countries. Gates for a newly installed personnel traffic area have also been completed for the scheduled pedestrian area construction project.
A life support area also will be built seven kilometers away in Badra to house U.S. border transition teams, who now have a 1.5-hour convoy ride from their base to visit their Iraqi counterparts on the port of entry.
In addition to the construction projects scheduled to be completed by Jan. 1, additional manning and equipment will be needed to support the existing traffic flow through the port of entry. Lynch said Jan. 1 should be in everyone's minds, and with the government of Iraq's continuing efforts, the vision can become reality.
"Our issue is focus. This is the only one in the area, ... and we need to take care of it," Lynch said.
(Air Force Maj. Michelle Coghill is assigned to the Iraq Assistance Group, Multinational Corps Iraq.)