On Friday the 18th of April, my 37th birthday, we deployed north from Shu’aybah Airfield near Az Zubayr to Muzaybilah on the Tigris, to take on our new internal security and peace support role. There we met Support Coy of 1 PARA, whom we were relieving, and set about the task of taking over the school where we were to be based. The Squadron was split into three troops, with an SHQ/SQMS packet. Each troop was allocated to the task of Patrols, QRF or Guard, rotating every few days. SHQ was responsible for foot patrols in the village itself.
Our task was to police a large area on both banks of the Tigris, about 40km by 20km. Our aim was to allow the Iraqis to return to normal life as soon as possible. But what was normal? The marshland, of which our maps showed the area was made up, had been almost entirely drained. Trees were evident largely as stumps and the only cultivation that we saw was right on the margin of the Tigris, here a turbid and sluggish body of water, about the width of the Thames at Henley. To our east, especially in the old Iran-Iraq war battlefields, the parched and blackened landscape looked like sepia photographs of the Western Front after the guns had fallen silent. No colour, no life. Almost everyone we spoke to relied on the “oil for food” programme ration, and few had any real way of supporting themselves.
The three main worries of the local population were security, water and electricity. Muzaybilah had never had piped water; most villages in our area relied on tanker deliveries, and most of the tankers had been pinched. Bandits abounded, and there were a lot of hold-ups and car-jackings. To get the grid running again, the electricity workers also needed security, and so we began a series of patrols and visits to reassure the population and start assembling a local council.
The major event of our time in Muzaybilah was Op GRAND THEFT AUTO where, in conjunction with a very excited heliborne CO, the squadron moved to seize stolen cars and water lorries. Several were recovered, fortunately without a shot being fired, and our compound began to resemble “Honest Dancer’s Motors”. The success was later tarnished by the use by one of our officers of one of the recovered cars to visit the very village from which it had been lifted.
The final memorable event was a visit to RHQ by the GOC Commanding at around the same time when desert kit arrived at long last – perhaps not a coincidence. More happily, camp-cots and mosquito nets also arrived, and for the last week we slept in luxury, above the camel spiders, ants and other beasties, amongst which we had formerly messed.
Suddenly, our flight date came, and on 2 May we were relieved by D Squadron and headed back south, policemen no more, to Shu’aybah.