I MEF transfers authority for southern Iraq to Polish-led division

3 Sep 2003 | Sgt. Colin Wyers

The First Marine Expeditionary Force transferred authority for five provinces in southern Iraq to the Polish-led Multinational Division Central-South, in a ceremony Sept. 3, 2003 at Camp Babylon, Iraq.

In the amphitheater on Camp Babylon, former headquarters for I MEF, representatives of the 21 nations that make up MND-CS, Iraqi sheiks and leaders, and Marines, sailors and soldiers from I MEF participated in the ceremony.

Speaking to those assembled, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Combined Joint Task Force 7 commanding general, thanked the outgoing Marines for their efforts in rebuilding Iraq.

"The MEF has accomplished so much in the past 5 months that it's hard to quantify everything that they have done," Sanchez said.  "Your incredible victories spearheading the coalition attack to Baghdad, in the most successful military operation in history, will long be studied.  You have been equally successful in winning the peace here in this region.  You have given hope to the hundred of thousands of people in this area.  The environment you have worked so hard to establish, you will now hand off to Multinational Division Central-South.  You have definitely set the conditions for them to succeed."

Lieutenant Gen. James T. Conway, I MEF commanding general, spoke of the Marines' accomplishments in rebuilding Iraq, which was a new role for the Marine Corps.

"Over five months ago, as we headed south out of Baghdad for these provinces, we did so with a certain amount of trepidation," said Conway.  "Marines don't traditionally do nation-building or security operations.  We have no doctrine for it.  We weren't sure where the resources would come from.  And we weren't sure how we would be received by the people of southern Iraq, who had seen American forces attack up through their governates.  Well, in some regards, a negative can become a positive.

"A lack of doctrine allowed us to pass some very simple rules to our Marines and soldiers.  They were, treat others as you would like to be treated.  Deal with the people with fairness and firmness and dignity.  And among other things, we emphasized the children.  They are the future of this country.  It's hard to be angry with someone when he's doing good things for your children.

Upon arriving in southern Iraq, the Marines set to work, seizing funds from former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's government to rebuild the country.

"We discovered the regime had large bank accounts, in virtually every major city in the south," said Conway, "and we used the monies not to build gregarious palaces that spot the horizon, but to refurbish hospitals, and rebuild the schools, and put in place bridges that the people needed."

Over $40 million dollars, from both seized funds and the Coalition Provisional Authority, were spent in addressing the needs of the Iraqi people.

"When we met the people of southern Iraq, we found them to be an industrious, intelligent society, very much aware of current events, and very much interested in the future of their county," said Conway.  "Together we went forward and made great progress."

Surrounded by flags from the 21 nations of MND-CS, Conway spoke about their shared history in fighting for freedom against tyranny.

"Over 225 years ago, the country of Poland assisted the United States in achieving its freedom," said Conway.  "I look at the flags... and see many other countries the United States assisted in achieving freedom and democracy, from the reaches of the Third Reich, or the Japanese Empire, or even the Soviet Union.  It's entirely appropriate that we all come together now to help the people of Iraq enjoy freedom and democracy."

Polish Army Maj. Gen. Andrzej Tyszkiewicz, MND-CS commanding general, spoke about the role of Poland, and the other nations of the division, in the global war on terrorism.

"As a result of the events of Sept. 11, we have become soldiers in the war on terrorism," said Tyszkiewicz.  "We generals, officers and soldiers of the Multinational division Central-South are honored that we are taking over the responsibility for five Iraqi provinces."

Tyszkiewicz spoke to the Iraqi guests about the experience of the division's countries in throwing off the shackles of dictatorship.

"Our division is formed by countries which passed through the same difficult road towards freedom and democracy," he said.  "We know the price that was paid.  We definitely appreciate its value."

With the division now responsible for stability and security in southern Iraq, the Marines of I MEF are preparing to return to Camp Pendleton, Calif.  Most of the forces have now returned to Kuwait to begin preparing to return home.  A small contingent of 1st Battalion 7th Marine Regiment will remain in place oversee the remaining security oversight around the city of Najaf and soon following the rest of I MEF home.