FORWARD OPERATING BASE DUKE, Iraq -- The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is now compensating -- in an effort to show goodwill -- innocent victims caught in the crossfire during fighting in August between MEU forces and the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia in An Najaf, Iraq.
Condolence payments, known as solatia, are meant to express sympathy or condolence to those who were injured, or to family members who lost a loved one.
One of the first condolence and collateral damage repair payments was made on Sept. 27, and the MEU expects to make these payments a weekly event. The MEU is offering to compensate Iraqis for damage ranging from property damage to personal injury and death of a family member.
The Iraqi government is sifting through the thousands of claims for legitimacy, and approved ones will be paid out of the MEU's solatia funds or Commander's Emergency Response Program. CERP funds will be used to refurbish different areas of the city and rebuild infrastructure damaged in the fighting.
Maj. Chris Walters, staff judge advocate, 11th MEU (SOC), estimates they will spend millions of dollars by the end of the month. The majority of the funds will be used to pay for refurbishment projects around the community, targeting schools, hospitals, and community buildings. The rest of the money will be used to repair other collateral damage and are being sifted through by a three-person board from the local Iraqi government.
"We're working in conjunction with the Iraqi government, trying to reach out to the innocent victims," Walters said.
In the first couple of test runs of issuing condolence payments, the MEU handed out more than $120,000, which was appreciated by the Iraqis on the receiving end.
"Now I can feed my family," said Nahkir Yair Abed, a native of An Najaf, after receiving his payment.
In addition to the payments, the 11th MEU is working closely with to the local government to refurbish the city.
"We want to demonstrate goodwill to the good people of Najaf who incurred loses during fighting in August," said Col. A. M. Haslam, Commanding Officer, 11th MEU (SOC). "Now that the security and stability have been returned to the city, and local Iraqi security forces are ensuring it is maintained, we are now focusing on rebuilding and revitalizing this city for its people."