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U.S. trains Iraqis in river warfare tactics

Times Staff Writer

Hoping to restrict the smuggling of weapons and fighters along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, the U.S. Navy has brought Iraqi security forces to America for training on river warfare tactics.

On Thursday, 16 members of the Iraqi Riverine Police Force finished a six-week course at a Navy training facility in Mississippi to prepare them to patrol the wide waterways that have served as smuggling corridors and danger zones for centuries.

The Navy routinely trains foreign military forces in such tactics. For the Iraqis, the training emphasized the possibility of combat.

“We know the likelihood of them getting shot at is very high,” said Navy Cmdr. Lance Bach. “We practiced on how to return fire and how to get out of the kill zone.”

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Navy officials hope the 16 will teach other Iraqi security personnel techniques for guiding small boats, inspecting suspicious vessels, and landing or evacuating “friendlies” on the shore.

Additional Iraqis are likely to take the course given at the Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School at Stennis Space Center, Miss. The school is part of the Naval Special Warfare Center, based in Coronado, Calif..

Assisted by four interpreters, Navy instructors taught the group techniques for patrolling in 25-foot boats armed with M60 machine guns. Much of the training was on how to react to ambush attacks.

“We pushed ‘em hard,” said Navy Chief Petty Officer Rob Rheaume.

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Historians suggest the lawlessness of Ramadi, now an insurgent hotspot, derives from its long involvement with smuggling rings using the Euphrates. Some smuggling is to avoid taxation on consumer goods. In other cases, smuggling aids the insurgency.

“In the absence of police or security forces, smugglers, using canoes and diesel-powered boats, move freely along these rivers,” said the Iraqi newspaper Azzaman, referring to the Tigris, Euphrates and the Shatt al Arab waterway in southern Iraq.

The Shatt al Arab, which divides Iran and Iraq, is an important smuggling route for oil being illegally exported from Iraq. The 16 Iraqis who graduated on Thursday will be deployed along the Tigris River, which runs through Baghdad.

One of them, who used the name Abu Ali, said he and his comrades learned “how to fight and fight hard.” Along with the training, there was also time to see some Americana, including museums and a four-hour trip to Wal-Mart.

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“It’s a beautiful thing,” Abu Ali said of Wal-Mart. “You need a whole day to spend there.”

tony.perry@latimes.com

Perry reported from San Diego.


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