News: Guarding the border secures country, boosts economy
Story by Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Multi-National Division - Center
ZURBATIYAH, Iraq – Young men in blue jumpsuits scurried around, pushing wide carts filled with luggage. Thousands of people passed through a metal detector in a single day, many of them coming back to the country they call home, while others visited on religious tours.
Iraqi border police scanned and searched travelers as they crossed from Iran into Iraq, maintaining control of the crowd and ensuring safe travel for everyone.
"We protect the country from outside: from smugglers, from outside weapons," said Pvt. Osama Samir, an Iraqi guard for the ministry of entrance.
The point of entry sees between 3,500 and 5,000 people cross in both directions each day. With that many people coming in and out of the country, it's important for the Iraqi border enforcement agencies to maintain security of the operations.
"We try to protect our country... If we do our job faithfully and right, we can do that," Samir added.
To help the Iraqi border enforcement in Wasit, five border transition teams work alongside them to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Three of the five border transition teams cover the border forts, one covers part of the border that extends into Diyala and another team helps with the inflow and outflow of travelers passing through the point of entry. The BTTs are made up of various Soldiers from 41st Fires Brigade; 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division; 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault); and others.
At Zurbatiyah, the team provides a dog team to search vehicles for bomb-making material, a biometrics database team and oversight for X-raying cargo.
Zurbatiyah is a small town located in northern Wasit province along the Iran-Iraq border. Many of the visitors come through Zurbatiyah to travel to Najaf and Karbala, known for their religious shrines and tourist sites.
"One thing I've noticed at this point of entry, it generates so many people, so much tourism, that the Iraqi country makes a lot of money for the economy," said Sgt. 1st Class Shelby Cross, of Glen Burnie, Md., the non-commissioned officer in charge of the biometrics team at the Zurbatiyah point of entry.
Approximately 90 percent of the incoming visitors are Iranians, while the other 10 percent come from Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Europe.
It's hard to estimate exactly how much money this point of entry generates in tourism, but it provides approximately 50,000 dollars in tax revenue a day from imported goods alone.
"There is a lot of cargo from Iran that comes into the country as well as fuel," said Capt. Trond Ruud, a Kansas City, Mo., native and operations officer for one of the BTTs working at the point of entry. "You'll see once you get out here, it's quite an operation."
The BTT trained IPs in searching techniques and crowd control to help in their mission. The teams also continually work with them to provide oversight. However, the BTT makes it very clear who is in charge at the border.
="They're [the Iraqi police officers] the direct link. We're very quick to tell people we're not the lead here. We support those in the lead," said Maj. Roy Nickerson, of Radcliff, Ky., a BTT assistant leader.
The only coalition-driven mission at the point of entry is inputting visitors' biometrics information. The team uses a Biometric Automated Toolset that stores iris scans, fingerprints, photographs and background information of military-aged males and links them to a major database both the FBI and the U.S. Army can use for security.
Upon input, the system alerts the team if they've come across wanted criminals or previous detainees.
In six months of working with the BAT system at the border, the team detained two high value individuals. One was wanted for making explosively-formed penetrators that injured three U.S. Soldiers and another was a terrorist group leader.
"If we can catch them on the BATs and take that one more person off the streets, that is our goal: helping the security of the country," Cross said. "The more people we catch, the better it is for a country to build itself ... that's why we're here."