International forces prepare to take charge of southern Iraq

28 Jun 2003 | Army Spc. Melissa Walther

As the Marines prepare to leave Iraq, the Polish Multi-National Division is preparing to fill in the gap.

Made up of 17 countries, the division is scheduled to take over five of the seven governances currently under control of the First Marine Expeditionary Force by September.  For this to happen, a lot of coordination is necessary between forces.

"So far everything is going very well," said Lt. Col. Janusz Adamczak, chief of the Polish initialization team of the Polish Multi-National Division.  "We're starting to form a good basis for the future we will spend together in Iraq.  It will take time, but with a common will we can accomplish our goals."

Coalition forces are seeking to replace U. S. forces by September 15, and plans are being made to improve conditions for incoming international troops. The forces will assume immediate security duties as well as reconstruction and humanitarian efforts now underway.

Army Maj. Perry Hill, Army Central Command planner assigned to I MEF, is working to ensure that the transition maintains the high level of security in the south.

"My job is to work with the Marines, the Brits, the Army and the other coalition forces to coordinate a smooth transfer of authority," said Hill, a resident of San Diego, Calif.  "The actual handoff occurs three levels below me, at the battalion level."

One of the key parts of Hill's job is making sure all the countries have a current Status of Forces Agreement with Kuwait and other nations they might travel through. The agreement defines the legal status of military personnel and property in the territory of another nation, and defines the rights and responsibilities between the foreign nation and the host government.

"We had a problem with the Romanian pre-deployment site assessment team getting through Kuwait," Hill said.  "They had a SoFA agreement, but it wasn't a good one.  In the scheme of things, will it stop us?  No.  But it's things like that that need to be smooth."

The 17 countries expected to take part in the Polish Multi-National Division are:  Poland, Fiji, Honduras, Hungary, Lithuania, Mongolia, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Thailand, Bulgaria, the Dominican Republic, Spain, Latvia, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Ukraine.

"We're looking for a seamless transition," said Army Col. Michael Whitehead, government team chief with the 358th Civil Affairs Brigade and a Tallahassee, Fla. native.  "The Poles and other nations will work with the Marines before they take over an area.  As one gets more confidence, the other backs off."

Before any of that can take place, the foreign command must decide where to place their troops and what support will be needed. Many of the nations making up the new Polish Multi-National Division are now in Iraq assessing locations they will likely occupy once the transition takes place.

"They're looking where they can put their troops and what support facilities they will need, like dining halls," said Army Maj. Miguel Feria, a Philadelphia resident working as the 358th's liaison to the Spanish delegation. 

"There's a lot of issues we're still finalizing like exactly which countries will be involved, what kind of support they will need, things like that," Whitehead said.

The governances the Division will take over are Babil, Karbala, An Najaf, Al Qadisiyah and Wasit.

"Most of the countries are providing a company here and there," Hill said.  "Poland, Spain and the Ukraine are providing the bigger parts; brigade and division headquarters.  The other countries will fall under their command."

Other countries that make up the coalition forces include the United Kingdom, Italy and the Netherlands.

"It is difficult enough for different services in one nation to work together," said Feria.  "We're here to try to fix any problems that may come from different nations working together before they occur."