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Minnesota National Guard
Combat Shopping with the Iraqi Army in Al Anbar

Camp Kassem, Iraq --The 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division shadowed by the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division's Military Transition Team made history for its second consecutive day on Nov 23 since its arrival in Rawah, Iraq

The Iraqi Army Soldiers, along with their commander and several of his staff officers, picked up food ordered the day before in this once war-torn city of 20,000 people The joint patrol on Nov 22 was the first one since the battalion arrived in Rawah Several of the team members, including Capt John Washburn of Hope, ND and 1st Lt Dave Colemer of Moorhead, Minn, and several Iraqi Army Soldiers provided security

Maj Wade Bastian of Foley, Minn, chief of the 2nd Battalion, 136th Combined Arms Battalion's MITT Team, said this "combat shopping" was good because the battalion of about 400 Soldiers wanted additional food that could only be purchased locally

"So we are getting money to go out on the economy and purchase it locally which also increases the local economy and gives buy-in to the vendors," he said The Iraqi Army battalion commander also demonstrated trust in his new neighbors When the food was ordered, he was wearing his body armor and had his loaded AK-47 machine gun attached to a carabineer on his vest

The next day, he didn't carry his AK-47 as a sign of trust His Soldiers and several members of the MITT team still provided security wearing full protective gear but maintained an open posture
On the first joint patrol, the commander also made a point to shake hands with the vendors and pose for photographs with children

The Rawah area in the Al Anbar Province has been a dangerous place for Coalition Forces, the Iraqi Army and especially the Iraqi Police, Bastian said He said that less than two months ago the force was composed of about 40 officers The numbers have dwindled to about 15 now

He said the reason was within the past several weeks, several of the policemen and their families were killed by terrorists prompting other policemen to quit the force A Joint Command Center, manned by Marines across the street from the shops, also received mortar attacks, rocket fire and sniper fire

Asked for his impression of the shops and the people, Bastian replied, "When you first move into an area you're cautious But the local police, the very few we have, have been patrolling this stretch for quite awhile They know everyone on this stretch," he said

He said the IPs also coordinate with the vendors to ensure smooth relations with Coalition Forces and the Iraqi Army

"We feel confident when we talk to local vendors They are supportive of Coalition Forces and are not afraid to interact," said Bastian

Bastian said before this Iraqi Army battalion's arrival in Rawah, the city received daily sniper attacks Roadside bombs and mortar fire were also common Rawah is 150 miles northwest of Baghdad along the Euphrates River

1st Lt Gordon Griswold of Cold Spring, Minn, a member of the MITT Team, said the Iraqi Army Soldiers also are better in gathering intelligence than Coalition Forces because they understand the way the people think

"They can look at someone in the street and say 'this guy is from Syria'," he said "We wouldn't know"

Bastian said this battalion also has captured several of the top 100 wanted terrorists
The battalion commander of this battalion also is very stern "Our purpose is to bring the law here to Rawah and just to make Rawah safe," he said

The MITT Team, one of the about 400 in Iraq, began its mission in Al Qaim, Iraq, in June It moved to this small combat outpost near Rawah early in November

Bastian said his team's mission is to prepare the Iraqi Army to take control of battle spaces like Rawah Once the Iraqi Army has control of a battle space, it will train the Iraqi Police to take it over Then the Iraqi Army can either move to another city or assume a support up role

By Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Wood, 1/34 BCT PAO

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