CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq --
Marines from the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) visited Habbaniyah Tourist Village June 1, to commemorate the grand-opening of a new restaurant and pool at the recently reinstated tourist area in Al Anbar.
Col. Vincent A. Coglianese, the chief of staff of the 2nd MLG (Fwd), and Maj. Christian M. Rankin, the commanding officer of Camp Al Taqaddum’s security detachment from 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, led the mission as envoys from the 2nd MLG (Fwd) attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and to meet with the resort staff to discuss future plans of continuing to improve conditions in the area.
The Marine officers saw the opening of the new attractions as a major step in the right direction for the once-blooming tourist spot and reassured them of the location’s potential to reemerge as one of Iraq’s leading vacation destinations.
“I think we have a huge opportunity with HTV to make it a legitimate resort,” said Rankin. “There’s a lot of potential for what this could be.”
The resort, located approximately 50 miles west of Baghdad, was built by the French in the late 1970s, and was a well-known and sought after vacationing area for the region. It featured a 250-room hotel, a beach on Lake Habbaniyah, an amusement park, restaurants and nearly 500 condo units on the grounds of the resort. .
However, according to an article ran by the Los Angeles Times, Saddam Hussein lost interest in HTV during the 1990s and stopped providing funding to the area. Then the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom brought more disappointing times when the battles for Fallujah in 2004 resulted in up to 15,000 refugees flooding into the area, subsequently diminishing the appeal of the once-popular area.
Over the last few years Coalition forces have provided financial aid to the resort in an attempt to get business rolling. Earlier this year it became apparent ground was gained when the resort hosted 3,000 to 5,000 visitors during peak business days.
Hameed A.T. Aladai, the director of the hotel and resort, hosted the 2nd MLG (Fwd) leaders and provided a tour of the resort’s new restaurant, pool and newly renovated bungalows in addition to holding discussions about the future of HTV.
Rankin has taken a strong interest in improving the resort since he took command of the area of operations March of this year. Coglianese ensured Aladai that no one was fighting harder then Rankin to provide the resort with funding to continue to build on their success.
“1st Battalion, 8th Marines continues to build on the successes around Camp Al Taqaddum in Al Anbar province and the many Marines and sailors who have served in Iraq,” he said. “I am confident that this team will put the ball in the end zone.”
Aladai told the Marines that betterment in the security situation along with advertising and marketing have been a strong reason for the increase in tourism over the last few months.
Rankin also praised the staff’s initiative.
“The marketing, that is another example of [Aladai and his staff] taking charge of the situation,” he said.
Coglianese and Rankin also expressed that it is important for the management at the resort to begin to focus more on taking care of themselves than on receiving aid from Coalition forces, an opinion shared by the 2nd MLG (Fwd) commanding general, Brig. Gen. Juan G. Ayala.
“The assistance that we’re able to offer is very specific because the money that’s allocated to us by law has to enhance or provide essential services to the people,” Ayala said in an earlier interview. “Water, sewage, [electricity] and those types of things will improve the quality of life for the people.”
“If we do too much they become dependent and we don’t want that,” he added. “We’re trying to influence [their leaders] to be able to provide services for the people, because at the end of the day, it’s not important if Americans do it. It’s important that Iraqis do it.”
Coglianese informed the Iraqis that the Marines are still committed to helping them, but that in the future the Marines will be gone from Iraq and Coalition forces are scheduled to follow.
“Maj. Rankin and his Marines are working very hard to get the money...In reality this may be our last chance to do so,” he said.
Though time may be running out for the relationship that has been forged over the past few years, the recent success of HTV is a bright glimpse into the future, giving Iraqis a better opportunity for leisurely activities, something Coglianese and Rankin claim is very important to the Iraqi people’s well being.
“The psychological impact … if people could go to a place to vacation, I think that’s important,” Coglianese said. “It brings back a sense of normalcy that they haven’t seen in years.”
Sheik Sa’adoon Khaled Eafan Al-Boeasa, a local religious leader committed to improving the community, spoke appreciatively of the Marines for helping HTV get to where it is today.
“We thank God for this blessing and we thank the Marines for providing security so we can get this started the right way,” he said.
Rankin mentioned several plans intended to help the resort in the future, including continuing to clean the area and providing other assistance to refurbish the area’s image.