IRAQ: Back to Azerbaijan, 'land of valiant sons'
The Azerbaijanis are going home.
When other nations hemmed and hawed about joining the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, the Republic of Azerbaijan did not hesitate.
For more than five years, Azerbaijani soldiers have provided security for the Haditha Dam in Anbar province, guarding the perimeter, searching the 630 Iraqi employees as they arrived at work and keeping a watchful eye on Lake Qadisiya to the north and the Euphrates River to the south.
With 11 rotations, more than 1,000 troops from the Caspian Sea nation served at the dam, a major source of hydroelectric power and thus a tempting target for insurgents. Highly disciplined, the Azerbaijani troops marched to and from the chow hall.
But now the Marines are decamping from Anbar, turning security chores over to the Iraqis. In a ceremony this week, Marine officials thanked the Azerbaijanis as their nation's flag was lowered.
The Azerbaijanis sang their national anthem:
"Azerbaijan! Azerbaijan!/Cherished land of valiant sons/We are ready to give our heart and life for you."
The anthem's lyrics were written in 1918 by poet Ahmad Javad, who was executed in 1937 as a "counterrevolutionary." Azerbaijan restored the anthem after it broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991.
-- Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: Azerbaijan soldiers at a farewell ceremony this week. Credit: Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jason Bortz