HADITHA DAM, IRAQ: The morning convoy from al-Asad Air Base to Haditha Dam was quick, considering the large number of vehicles. There were numerous contractors, mainly from Kellogg, Brown & Root, intermixed with the military train to the dam. The trip was uneventful and the desert scenery was beautiful.
The Haditha Dam and the lake it formed is a welcome sight in a region that wholly consists of desert expanses, minus a narrow band of green along the Euphrates River Valley. The dam was created for two purposes: to provide electricity and to control of flow of water downriver for agricultural irrigation. The hydroelectric dam is capable of providing thirty percent of the power for the nation, but its primary mission at this time is to maintain the water levels of the river.
Currently the Thundering Third of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment is securing the Triad City region of which is comprised of the dam, and the cities of Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana. A battalion of tough Azerbaijan troops and a Dam Security Unit [insert joke here], made of a Marine manned boat patrol unit, provides security for the dam.
The 3/1 has taken hard casualties during its two tours in Iraq. During Operation Iraqi Freedom II (the second troop rotation), the 3/1 was the lead assault battalion at the Battle of Fallujah. The battalion lost 23 Marines in Fallujah alone, and during OIF II, lost 33 killed in action and awarded 475 purple hearts for wounds received in combat. During this rotation in Iraq, 2 have been killed in action and 41 wounded.
Major Sam Carrasco, the Executive Officer of the 3/1, describes the Triad Cities region as the “fulcrum” of western Iraq, as it sits at a crossroads of the roads from the Syrian and Jordanian borders to Mosul, Ramadi and Baghdad. Between the dam and the crossroads, the Triad Cities has strategic importance.
For this reason, the Triad Cities were a target for the insurgency in 2004 and 2005. They conducted a campaign of terror to intimidate the local population, and the police forces of the region disintegrated. al Qaeda is said to have flown the black flag over the cities, and it is believed Zarqawi preached at a local mosque and maintained a home in Haditha, although Major Carrasco says no evidence of this was discovered other than some al Qaeda literature.
Coalition forces conducted numerous raids in Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana, but did not possess enough forces to maintain control of the cities. This ended with Operation Rivergate, when a battle position was established in each city, manned by the Marines of the 3/1 and Iraqi Army troops. In an interesting note about the planning of Rivergate, the 3/1 was able to catch the enemy off guard by marching into Haditha by foot from the desert in the west. The insurgent’s defenses were oriented to the north towards the dam. The Thundering Herd was able to clear the city without taking casualties.
Since Rivergate, it is believed the foreign fighters fled the city “to go where the Coalition forces are not” , says Major Carrasco. But a determined local insurgency still exists, along with a violent criminal element. And the insurgency is targeting Coalition forces as well. Over 100 “IEDs of significance” , described as highly lethal and sophisticated bombs made with large-caliber rounds, have been uncovered.
During a patrol on November 19th, a Coalition foot patrol was hit with such a device,and then ambushed by insurgents firing from the surrounding homes,using women, children and families as human shields. The Marines fought back, as is their right to defend themselves, and innocents were killed. The insurgents used this as an opportunity to spread rumors of wholesale killings of civilians.
A campaign of intimidation is occurring against the residents at this time, and the Coalition forces are currently fighting to gain the trust of the locals in order to establish security. Currently there is no police force in the region. Barwana is described as the most stable city, with Haditha a mixed bag and Haqlaniyah being the most dangerous.
Tomorrow, I’ll be taking a ride on the river with the Marines of the Dam Security Unit then heading to Haqlaniyah embed with India Company.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.