By Army Spc. Michael J. MacLeod
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 15, 2009 - Iraqi and U.S. officials celebrated the opening of a meeting place and the first of what will be two dozen new and refurbished schools Sept. 9 in an area northwest of Baghdad many thought to be lost to poverty and violence. The Karmah School for Girls and a "diwan" for the sheik council and Karmah's city council are part of a larger civil affairs initiative in the region, a project spokesman said.
Sheik Lawrence, who has been involved with Iraqi security forces and Marine Corps civil affairs teams since the school project began in early May, thanked attendees for their support.
"We've seen the first school open this week, and God willing, we will see one more open every week," Lawrence said.
The sheik also thanked Sheik Aifan, who sits on the Anbar provincial council, for his support.
"Karmah was forgotten for a long time, and this is everyone's fault," said Aifan, who promised to represent the area's residents in the provincial government. "Karmah sacrificed a lot. It has given many sons."
About a year ago in Karmah, the blast from a suicide bomb attack killed a Marine battalion commander, two other Marines, two Iraqi interpreters, the mayor and several key tribal figures at an engagement just prior to the formal handover of security in Anbar province to Iraqis.
Marine Corps Col. Matthew Lopez, commander of Regimental Combat Team 6, thanked the sheiks for their quest for peace on behalf of the Marines, soldiers and Iraqi security forces.
"I have great respect for many of the men in this room," Lopez said. "They taught me so much and it was an honor to be part of this."
The openings come during a period of transition for U.S. forces in Anbar province, as Marines of Regimental Combat Team 6 and 8 are being relieved by U.S. Army paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team.
Army Sgt. 1st Class David Lowry, noncommissioned officer in charge of civil affairs for the brigade, said the soldiers will work with Iraqi forces to finish what the Marines and Iraqi forces started.
Marine civil affairs planners and their Army counterparts are working to ensure a seamless transition for the more than three dozen ongoing school and water projects under way in the area, he said.
(Army Spc. Michael J. MacLeod serves in the Multinational Force West public affairs office with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team.)