Iraqis Eager, Willing to Protect Their Community
By Pfc. Brian Jones, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service
FALLUJAH, Iraq, Aug. 5, 2007 Weary of the violence to which their community has been victim, residents of the Andaloos district here have organized a Neighborhood Watch to keep watch against insurgent activity.
Iraqi men of the Andaloos district of Fallujah wait in the hot sun July 30, 2007, to be selected as recruits for the new Neighborhood Watch program set up in their community through the efforts of Marines, Iraqi Army, Iraqi police and local community leaders. The program is part of ongoing Operation Alljah to transform the communities within Fallujah to provide security, civil assistance and economic recovery. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Brian D. Jones
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“For anything to be able to take place and work long term you have to have security,” said Chief Warrant Officer Steven M. Townsley, the Civil Affairs Group officer in charge for 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. “It doesn’t matter how many guns, tanks or bombs you have. Unless you have the will of the people, you’ll never have security.”
The Neighborhood Watch program is part of ongoing Operation Alljah to transform the communities within Fallujah to provide security, civil assistance and economic recovery, according to U.S. military officials.
“Who better to defend the terrain than those who live there?” asked Capt. Mark C. Cameron, the assistant operations officer with 2nd Battalion 6th Marine Regiment. “We’re working towards common goals to remove the insurgency’s presence as well as providing an opportunity for an economic base to build on in the area.”
As part of Operation Alljah, barriers were placed in the roads to form road blocks and entry control points for the community. Cameron took care to let the district residents know the barriers were in place not to keep them in, but to keep the terrorists out. This maneuver is intended to create the conditions the district needs to effectively enforce the rule of law, and lead them to control their community independently of coalition forces, he said.
Iraqis of the neighborhood are recruited for the Neighborhood Watch to be auxiliary policemen to reinforce the more formal Iraqi Security Forces. As watchmen they will be expected to perform three tasks: wear the uniform, follow the orders of the Iraqi Police and most importantly, treat the citizens of the Andaloos district and Fallujah with dignity and respect.
“You will be the ones who the people of Fallujah and the people of this district will look to, to make decisions,” Cameron told the recruits.
Over a loud speaker, men throughout the neighborhood heard about the opportunity to serve their community by taking part in the Neighborhood Watch program. Despite the sweltering, triple-digit heat, a mass of local men came to the precinct and stood in line for the better part of the day bearing the day’s heat.
“It’s very positive from our perspective to see the enthusiasm from the local nationals and (their willingness) to do it themselves. In the past it hasn’t always necessarily been the case,” said Cameron. “The (Iraqi police) obviously have had a high operational tempo and they’re reinvigorated when they see the willingness from the local nationals.”
The selected recruits were required to file through a screening process conducted by the battalion staff. The process is composed of a battery of tests, including functional literacy, medical screening and criminal background check.
After being determined fit for duty, the recruits received their badges and uniforms. After they had been fully processed they attended a swearing in ceremony, took an oath to remain loyal and to treat their fellow Fallujans with dignity and respect and received a food bag to carry home to their families.
The following day they begun a month of fundamental training, led by Iraqi soldiers, learning weapon proficiency, weapon handling, safety, patrolling techniques, searching procedures and how to use them effectively.
Men who are signed on for the job are not required to quit their jobs to be a watchman. However the men will be compensated for their work under a contract to be paid an amount of $50 a month for three months. This will make a considerable increase to their average income, and contribute to economic growth.
“The most exciting part about this is that Iraqis have stood up, they’re enabled,” said 1st Lt. Brian P. Mahon, executive officer, Company E, 2nd Battalion 6th Marine Regiment. “I think some people feel frustrated. They want to help. They want to step forward, but there wasn’t really conditions in place in their local community to participate in their local governance and you can see that frustration with a lot of the Iraqi people. This is giving them a chance to change things.”
(Marine Pfc. Brian Jones is assigned to Regimental Combat Team 6)