CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq --
As U.S. bases and posts in Iraq continue to consolidate or are transferred back to the Government of Iraq, military leaders across the country face the challenges of leaving their locations better than when they initially arrived. Whether it’s through the stabilized security we see today in Iraq or the civil affairs projects that have sprouted throughout the country, there are tangible improvements to many of the areas that continue to be or were once occupied by U.S. forces.
One of these improvements was the recent completion of a $50,000 renovation project of a mosque located aboard Camp Al Taqaddum. The religious structure has actually been closed to the public since 1987, when the area was taken over by the Iraqi Army. But its new face-lift gives hope to local Iraqis that their place of worship will soon be available for use.
Military officials with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) and local Iraqi leaders met at TQ in a small ceremony to commemorate the improvements to the mosque. The completion of the project comes only a few days before the beginning of Ramadan, the month-long Muslim observance that focuses on spiritual character building through fasting, prayers and acts of charity.
One of the local leaders who came on base for the event was Ishmaiel Mahmoud Hammad Al-Khelefowi, a religious leader of Al Kabani, a small village neighboring Al Taqaddum. His grandfather actually helped build the first mud structure back in 1945 that served as the mosque for more than 40 years until the area was restricted to Iraqi military personnel. Although the new mosque will remain closed to the public until all U.S. forces depart TQ, Al-Khelefowi knows the local people will appreciate the efforts of the Marines who helped coordinate these improvements.
“They will be very grateful,” Al-Khelefowi says. “I want to show the people how Coalition forces have helped us … show their good side.”
The project was designed and led by a local Iraqi contractor and facilitated by the civil affairs section of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, serving as the security force for the camp. It took 12 days to complete the renovations with a team of 10 local workers who traveled on and off base every day in support of the project. The work consisted of an entirely new paint job, new windows, light fixtures, electrical work and overall improvements to the infrastructure.
The civil-military operations officer for the battalion, 1st Lt. Christopher J. O’Melia, has worked closely with the local Iraqi villages since his unit arrived to the area in early March. In that time, he has coordinated 52 different projects, coming to a grand total of $1.5 million. The funds for the project came from the Commander’s Emergency Response funds, which are funds available to a commander to help respond to local needs in his area of operations.
O’Melia, who is on his second tour to Iraq, sees a lot of significance in all of the projects he has helped facilitate over the past six months in the 2nd MLG (Fwd)’s area of operations.
“We want the Iraqi people to understand that we’re not occupiers, we’re facilitators,” he explained. “I think as Coalition forces contract and we prepare to turn back pieces of terrain to the Iraqis, we want to make sure the area is better than when we arrived … we want to show them we have been good custodians of their property.”
Marines who have been deployed to Camp Al Taqaddum on previous deployments can testify to overall improvements they’ve seen in the area. Debris has been cleaned up around the camp and there is less and less military gear and equipment, which has increased tenfold since the recent uptick of drawdown operations. All efforts have brought the Marines stationed aboard TQ one step closer to getting the area ready for the eventual transfer to the Government of Iraq.