US, Iraqi leaders discuss base turnover

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Matthew C. Cooley
15th Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs
15th Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE Q-WEST, Iraq — U.S. Army and Air Force, Iraqi Air Force and local Iraqi civilian leaders gathered for a luncheon May 20 here to discuss the largest base turnover from U.S. forces to the Iraqi Air Force so far.

Contingency Operating Base Q-West, Iraq, a U.S. base since 2003, is scheduled for turnover from the U.S. Army’s 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), to the Iraqi Air Force in July as part of the upcoming responsible drawdown of troops and equipment from Iraq.

Col. Larry Phelps, commander of the 15th Sust. Bde and a Greenville Ala, native; Iraqi Air Force Col. Nuhad Natik, assigned to become the base commander after turnover; and Dr. Mohammad, the shaykh of the nearby village Jedellah Sofla, discussed the area’s past and future.

According to Natik, the Iraqi Air Force plans for COB Q-West to be fully equipped with three squadrons, including new helicopters and multiple F-16 Fighting Falcons by 2011. He also said he plans to improve base security.

In an interview May 1, when Natik arrived on base, he said he worked on the base 18 years earlier in his career.

“We’re very happy and … it was a very good decision to open this base again,” Natik said.

It is important that someone who was on COB Q-West before and understood it would be in charge, Phelps said.

According to Iraqi Air Force Lt. Col. Karim Almeferjy, COB Q-West is of vital strategic importance in the area.

“It is in the interest of both governments that our mission succeeds,” he said.

Almeferjy said he hopes the U.S. military would continue to help with the transition as much as possible.

“We are working as one force,” Natik said.

Natik believes that the Iraqi military would continue to adopt a more Western style of military, he said.

Most good militaries work similarly, Phelps said, citing the time he spent working with other countries’ armed forces while working at NATO.

“They find a different path but they end up at the same place. I think we’re like that,” he said.

Mohammad discussed local issues in the area including poverty, difficulty getting clean water and terrorism.

“Unemployment is one of the reasons people turn to terrorism,” he said.

Mohammad asked Natik to keep hundreds of civilian workers employed by the U.S. Army at COB Q-West after the base turnover.

Natik said he was aware of the issue and would make the recommendation to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.

“I will do my best to help them,” Natik said. “I have this concern in my mind. This base belongs to the people in this region. It’s not mine.”

Mohammad reminisced about his village’s relationship with the base and U.S. Army.

“When I met them there is more friendship … we break down the barriers,” he said.

Mohammad spoke of his many friends in the U.S. Army including Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, whom he met when Petraeus was still a major general.

With the help of Mohammad, the U.S. Army found insurgents operating in the area and was able to determine friend from foe, he said.

“(The) main thing I discuss with the coalition forces is how to win the people beside us by giving them jobs,” Mohammad said.

In those early days, he invited area leaders and U.S. military leaders to his home to discuss local issues and he continues to do so today he said.

Mohammad said much has improved in Iraq and in his local area. He praised the Iraqi government for attempting to rid the country of corruption and claimed that voters are beginning to elect those who are not corrupt.

“In the next parliament I believe the corruption will be down 50 to 60 percent,” he said.

With the help of coalition forces, 20 schools and a clinic were built in the region since 2003, Mohammad said.

“We will all miss this place. I think there’s something very special about this area, and I’m happy that someone who cares about the area will be in charge,” Phelps said.

Mohammad invited the leaders to his home at a later time to continue to discuss the future of the area. He also mentioned he would be happy if Phelps and his other U.S. military friends could visit him in the future.

“I think we could all count ourselves as successful when I can visit without this,” Phelps said, pointing to his own uniform.

 

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Col. Larry Phelps (far right), commander of the 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Exeditionary) and a Greenville, Ala., native, discusses the turnover of Contingency Operating Base Q-West, Iraq May 20, with future base commander Iraqi Air Force Col. Nuhad Natik (far left) and other U.S. and Iraqi civilian and military leaders at a luncheon at COB Q-West. The turnover of Q-West will be the largest base turnover from U.S. forces to the Iraqi Air Force so far. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew C. Cooley)

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Dr. Mohammad (right), the shaykh of the nearby village Jedellah Sofla, discusses the turnover of Contingency Operating Base Q-West, Iraq May 20, the largest base turnover from U.S. forces to the Iraqi Air Force so far, with future Q-West base commander Iraqi Air Force Col. Nuhad Natik (left) and U.S. Army Col. Larry Phelps (foreground), commander of the 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Greenville, Ala., native. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew C. Cooley)