Coalition Hopes to Ease Tensions With Weapons 'Buy-Back'
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 28, 2004 U.S. soldiers in Iraq are distributing leaflets in Karbala, urging Iraqis in the city to turn in their weapons in exchange for cash, a senior military official said today in Baghdad.
Soldiers from the 1st Armored Division are conducting the weapons "buy-back" program, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Multinational Force Iraq, said at a news conference. He said the program in an attempt to further ease tensions between the coalition and followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the city.
More than 50,000 leaflets were disseminated, the general said.
Coalition forces conducting a similar program in Sadr City got 4,000 AK-47 assault rifles off the street for $2.5 million, Kimmitt said.
"We know that over the past few weeks there has been some violence in Karbala," the general told reporters. "Now that Muqtada's militia has left, it is important for us to do follow-up actions, and one of the follow-up actions is to try and reduce the number of weapons inside that city."
Kimmitt said although Karbala's population is the main focus of the buy-back program, money will be available to anyone who comes to the city with a weapon and is willing to sell it to coalition forces. The program's principle, the general explained, is that having fewer weapons on the streets will reduce the amount of violence and instability in the city.
Dan Senor, senior Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman, told reporters that Sadr's promise of no more armed attacks in Najaf, one of Iraq's holiest cities, is not enough. "Al-Sadr must disband and dissolve his illegal militia and submit himself to justice," he said. Sadr, he added, "has an obligation" to meet the requirements of the Iraqi arrest warrant issued for his alleged role in a prominent cleric's murder last year.
"Our position is unchanged in both of those conditions," Senor said. "Both must be met."
Senor noted that the cleric has taken positive steps in trying to reduce tensions in Najaf, where Sadr's militia took control of the city, shutting down police stations and government buildings.
"We think it is a positive step. We think it is a first step, but it is not a solution to the broader problem, so let's wait and see what happens in the days ahead," he said. The coalition is "cautiously optimistic" about the way situation is heading, he added.
Kimmitt said although there is no evidence that Sadr's militia has left Najaf, the coalition intends to bring back Iraqi police into the city. However, he said, it may take some time before the city has a satisfactorily trained and capable police force, so coalition forces will continue to patrol.
"What we don't want to do in the interim is create a security vacuum," the general said. "And so in the interim, we still have coalition forces patrolling, providing presence and protecting some of the key facilities."
Kimmitt said he expects U.S. forces to be present in Najaf for the near term until local government is capable of bringing an Iraqi force into the city. "We want that to happen as quickly as possible," he said. "We want to turn the city of Najaf back over to the people of Najaf and Iraqi government control as soon as possible."
The general also gave reporters details on other recent developments in Iraq:
Coalition forces conducting cordon-and-search missions arrested six anti- coalition suspects in the northern area of operations.
In the north-central zone, U.S. forces detained four anti-coalition suspects and confiscated 15 sniper rifle rounds during a raid near Balad.
A known weapons dealer and another suspect were detained in Baghdad, and coalition forces confiscated a machine gun and ammunition.
Coalition forces arrested a suspected anti-coalition cell leader and improvised explosive device maker at a Baghdad car lot May 26. The raid resulted in the arrest of the target and 25 more suspects.
In the western zone of operation, 14 Iraqis carrying artillery fuses, ammunition casings and copper wires were detained and taken to a local Iraqi police station for questioning.
Coalition forces at a traffic-control point were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire, but no injuries were reported. Four attackers carrying AK-47s were seen running into a palace near the incident.
In a separate incident outside a coalition base camp, U.S. forces on a reconnaissance mission were attacked by RPGs. The patrol returned fire and captured three enemy personnel.
Five mortar rounds hit south of a coalition base camp, and hours later, 11 more mortars were fired at the same base camp.
Near Kufa, a patrol received RPG and small-arms fire.
In the southeastern zone, an Iraqi police station was attacked by tribal members northwest of Basra. Iraqi police detained two individuals involved in the attack.
In the 24 hours leading up to today's news conference, coalition forces performed 2,044 patrols and 27 offensive operations, flew 31 Air Force and Navy sorties, and arrested 44 anti-Iraqi suspects.
In addition, 617 more detainees were released from the Abu Ghraib prison, Kimmitt said.