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Sunday, April 25

Marines to start patrolling Fallujah

By Gidget Fuentes | Marine Corps Times

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Marines will begin training with Iraqi security forces on Monday in a step that could lead to joint patrols in the besieged city as early as Tuesday, a senior military commander said Sunday. The patrols into the city itself would be the first in weeks. Marines have been in almost daily fights in and around the city, which has been a flash point for anti-U.S. insurgency.

Maj. Gen. James Mattis, who commands the 1st Marine Division, said his forces would train with Iraq Civil Defense Corps soldiers and Iraqi police units, who will then operate inside a city that has been a flash point for anti-U.S. insurgency.

``The joint patrols have the purpose of the Iraqis taking control of Fallujah,'' Mattis said during a short visit to a temporary base for one of his infantry units, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine of Camp Pendleton, Calif.

``These patrols are designed to get Iraqis in the streets backed up sufficiently by Marines so no one messes with them,'' Mattis said. ``By doing that, we then open the way to start paving some degree of trust where there is very little now.''

The issue of joint patrols is one that local negotiators and U.S. military officials agreed to in the April 9 cease-fire agreement that has halted offensive combat operations inside the city.

The patrols won't just be walking the beat like cops do.

``It will be a combat patrol, in the city, prepared to deal with anything they run into,'' said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, who commands the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. He said Marines ``will go out, establish a presence, (and) tell people that they're out there working with the Iraqis.''

No patrols are planned for Fallujah's al-Jolan district, a congested area with ``byzantine'' streets that Byrne said ``would be highly problematic.''

Elements of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment from Twentynine Palms, Calif., and 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment from Camp Lejeune, N.C., will also train for the joint patrols, Byrne said.

Fifty families are allowed to return into the city each day, and that figure could grow if the security situation improves, Byrne said. Each family can include as many as 25 members, including the head of household.

Although Marine Corps officials have urged women, children, elderly and heads of households to leave the city, they said allowing some families to return is a concession and show of good faith. ``We still have the cordon around the city,'' Byrne said.

Little success has been achieved collecting weapons, however.

The cease-fire agreement called for Fallujah residents to turn in their weapons, a move military officials sought to reduce the potential dangers to their forces. The first week produced some small arms, but about 90 percent of them unserviceable. The numbers and quality stand in sharp contrast to the large weapons caches, including mortars and rockets, that Marines have found in searches around the city.

``The weapons turn-in is the first key piece,'' Byrne said. ``It's way off the mark.''

The April 9 agreement hasn't stopped attacks on Marines and soldiers by insurgents, however, and rocket attacks, mortars and sniper fire remain a daily occurrence. But the number of attacks on coalition forces here has decreased, an indication that Fallujah officials may have some influence over the anti-coalition activity that has plagued U.S. forces since they moved into the city in early April.

Until the standoff is resolved and security improves, however, the Marines said they would not proceed on some $80 million in reconstruction projects slated for Fallujah.

``We came here to build,'' Mattis said. ``We cannot ... because we've been rebuffed by the violent people.''

Projects include water filtration plants, repairing sewage lines and road repaving. ``This is all on hold right now while some thugs run this town to the detriment of the innocent people here,'' he said.