Despite the relative calm of Rawah, Marines continue foot patrols with Iraqi police
RAWAH, Iraq — The plump Iraqi woman in the white headscarf was outside hanging the wash when she spotted the Marine foot patrol making their way up the street on another hot, dusty afternoon in Rawah.
Minutes earlier, six Marines and two blue-clad Iraqi police officers had left a patrol base in Rawah, a city on the Euphrates River in western Anbar province.
The aim is mainly to detect insurgent activity, remind the insurgents they are ready and able to engage them, and make local residents, such as the woman hanging the wash, feel safer.
The Marines were with 3rd Platoon, Company D, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, part of Task Force Highlander.
For these Marines, such patrols have become a staple of the counterinsurgency role U.S. forces find themselves in at this stage of the Iraq conflict, where the populace is seen as the “center of gravity.”
“Every Marine is a police officer, every Marine is an ambassador,” said 3rd Platoon’s commander, 1st Lt. Josef H. Wiese, 24, of Steilacoom, Wash. “That’s a tough gig for a guy who joined up to jump out of helicopters.”
Wiese was not on this patrol. Its leader was Pfc. Bryan Gregory, 22, of Bagdad, Ariz.
The woman watched the Marines a moment, then quickly went inside.
The Marines continued on and soon were no longer on paved streets but in a wide-open, sun-baked tract where numerous houses of stone or cinder block were in various stages of completion. And minutes beyond that, not a quarter-mile to their left, was the pale gray ribbon of the Euphrates.
Up ahead was a two-story house made of stones and mortar.
They knocked, and a man opened the door. He wore a white, gown-like dishdasha and sandals, had a mustache and curly black hair and was smoking a cigarette. He did not seem at all alarmed at the sight of the patrol, and when the Iraqi police said they’d like to look around inside, he showed no resentment.
The Marines went briefly inside the rooms, looking but not touching anything while the man stood by, the Iraqi police near him. He seemed somehow reassured by the Iraqi police presence.
“Ask him if he’s seen any people around here,” Gregory told one of the Iraqi police officers.
Immediately the man held his hands out in the negative, and told them in Arabic that no, he hasn’t seen anything suspicious going on.
Within four minutes of knocking, the patrol was thanking him and saying goodbye.
The patrol was now in what had turned into steeply rolling country, the river on their left, while far out to the right was a vista of houses and palm trees, part of residential Rawah.
They were now climbing a very steep slope. A house under construction was at the top, and Gregory saw two people.
When the patrol reached them neither showed fear. One looked in his 20s and had a black-and-white checked scarf on his head. The other was in his teens and the older one told the patrol the two were brothers.
Through the Iraqi police, Gregory asked if anyone else was inside. No one, the older one answered.
“Tell him we have to take a look anyway,” Gregory told the Iraqi police.
Meanwhile, another Marine spoke to the older Iraqi in English. They exchanged names.
“How old are you?” the Marine asked.
“You speak pretty good English,” he said.
“Oh, something,” the Iraqi answered.
They shook hands.
Finding nothing, the patrol said goodbye and moved on.
In their operating area, Task Force Highlander Marines say, the populace has grown largely supportive in recent months, and insurgent attacks in the cities have dropped off sharply.
But for Gregory and other task force Marines, that in itself poses a risk.
“You gotta keep in mind,” he said, “that even though not a lot has been happening, the enemy could pop his head out. You gotta keep your guard up.”