Marines make for safe payday

6 Jun 2003 | Sgt. Michael Sweet

Saddam Hussein may no longer rule Iraq but the First Marine Expeditionary Force is working hard to make sure everyone has plenty of Saddams in their pocket.

As part of the national payment program that kicked off here this week, 196 employees of the Babylon water and sewer district lined up June 6 to receive their first salary payment since April 3, when state salaries were suspended falling the fall of Hussein's regime. 

"Things are much better now," said Sabah M. Mohammed, the chief engineer for the Babylon Water and Sewer District.  "My people are happy that they are getting paid."

Early Friday morning district workers began lining up outside the main offices to receive crisp Iraqi Dinar notes that still bear the face of the despised dictator.

Because it is the Muslim Sabbath, many workers brought their children who were not in school.  Although the money had yet to arrive, no one seemed willing to leave the line and risk missing out on the long-awaited windfall. 

Shortly after the war ended, lawlessness shut many of the banks down and none o them were able to cash checks or exchange large notes for smaller denominations.  These and other problems are keeping the Iraqi postwar economy from surging ahead.

If the I MEF can help the Iraqis work out these problems, similar programs will be rolled out throughout the rest of the country, officials said.

"We are here to support the Iraqi people," said Army Capt. Paul J. Cassidy, a government affairs specialist with the Green Bay, Wis.-based 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve working with the Marines in Al Hillah. "Our goal is for the Iraqi people to handle this without our help."

For now that help rest mostly with providing a safe and secure atmosphere in which to conduct business.  At the bank where the Civil Affairs team picked up the payroll with Mohammed, Marines from A Company 1st Battalion 4th Marine Regiment provided a quite visible deterrent to any aspiring robber in the area.

"We've been here all week," said Lance Cpl. David J. Carrillo, an infantryman in A Company.  "If anything happens we can take care of it."

While the Marines take a high profile roll in securing public buildings and government facilities, they are also working with local authorities to build up local police and private security services.  Until local law enforcement is able to handle any challenges on their own, the Marines will stay out in force.

John Barbee, a community development consultant working with the United States Agency for International Aid, said the military has done a good job in ensuring that the payday occurred, but that it's a time for the Iraqi people to stand his or her own.

"What we want to do now is empower the Iraqi people to do more themselves, he said."

Under the watchful and heavily-armed escort of soldiers from the 551st Military Police Company, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based out of Ft. Campbell, Ky., the civil affairs team and more than 27 million Dinars were delivered to the water and sewer office. 

"It has been hard to take care of things," said Ameria Mubdil, a laboratory technician at the water plant, through a translator.  "I used my sewing machine to do some extra work when we did not have any money."

Now that she is beginning to be paid her salary again, the mother of four says that she is happy she and her husband will not have to depend on extra sewing jobs to make ends meet.

"Things are much better now, but we still need security and cooking gas for food," said Mubdil. "That is imperative." 

One of the ways the Marines are trying to make things safer for Iraqis is that when they come to pick up their money, they are asking them to sign a document denouncing the Saddam Hussein's Baath party and to pledge to turn in unauthorized weapons.

"If they do not sign the form the chief engineer can fire them," said Cassidy, a reservist from Lansing, Mich.

One paycheck is nice, but for this experiment to work the chief engineer will need to work with the Marines until he is able to provide his workers with regular payments.

"This is going much better than I thought it would," said Mohammed. "This is payment for April I hope to do this again later this month."