KARMAH, Iraq (Sept. 14, 2009) -- The opening of the first of two dozen new and refurbished schools and a new meeting place were celebrated Sept. 9, in an area northwest of Baghdad thought by many to be lost to poverty and violence.

A group of influential sheikhs, government and Iraqi Security Force officials joined U.S. Marine and Army leadership for the opening ceremony.

The Karmah School for Girls was opened along with a diwan for the sheikh council and city council of Karmah, both part of a larger civil affairs initiative in the Karmah region, said a spokesperson for the projects.

Sheikh Lawrence, a prominent sheikh who has been very involved with ISF and U.S. Marine Corps civil affairs teams since the schools project began in early May, thanked attendees for their support.

"We've seen the first school open this week, and God willing, we will see one more open every week," said Lawrence.

The sheikh also thanked Sheikh Aifan, who sits on the Al Anbar provincial council, for showing his support for the projects by attending.

"Karmah was forgotten for a long time, and this is everyone's fault," said Aifan, who promised to represent the area's residents in the provincial government. "Karmah sacrificed a lot. It has given many sons," he said.

Just over a year ago in Karmah, the blast from a suicide bomb attack killed a Marine battalion commander, along with two other Marines, two Iraqi interpreters, the mayor and several key tribal figures at an engagement just prior to the formal handover of security in Al Anbar province to Iraqis.

In a nod to the projects' effect of reducing violence in Karmah, Marine Col. Matthew Lopez, commander of Regimental Combat Team 6, thanked the sheikhs for peace on behalf of the Marines, Soldiers and ISF.

"I have great respect for many of the men in this room. They taught me so much and it was an honor to be part of this," said Lopez.

The openings come during a period of transition for U.S. forces in Al Anbar province, as Marines of Regimental Combat Team 6 and 8 are being relieved by U.S. Army Soldiers of 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division.

Sgt. 1st Class David Lowry, who is the noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of civil affairs for the brigade and who attended the openings, said the ISF and Army will finish what the ISF and Marines started.

For the more-than-three-dozen ongoing school and water projects begun in the Karmah area by the ISF and Marine partnership, the Marine civil affairs planners and their Army counterparts are working hard to enable a seamless transition, he said.

Karmah Mayor Ahmad Khalaf said to Col. Mark Stammer, the brigade commander, "All the faces you see here are people who support you."

(Spc. Michael J. MacLeod, serves with public affairs for the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Multi National Force - West Public Affairs.)