Concerned Iraqi Citizen Movement Saves American Lives
By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2007 Iraqi citizens are increasingly coming together to voluntarily battle al Qaeda in Iraq, thereby saving American lives and reshaping military operations in the country, a coalition commander said today.
“The willingness of the Sunni population to turn on (al Qaeda) has been a watershed in this war; there’s no other word for it,” Army Col. Martin Stanton told online journalists and “bloggers” during a conference call from Baghdad. Stanton is chief of reconciliation and engagement for Multinational Corps Iraq.
“The ‘concerned local citizens’ are responsible for a significant drop in U.S. casualties,” he said.
For instance, the colonel explained, in a four-month period after the Sunni-awakening movement began south of Baghdad, the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Brigade saw its casualty rate plunge from 12 deaths a month to just one.
“It showed very clearly that the (concerned local citizens) had saved lives, had saved millions of dollars of equipment,” he said.
Concerned local citizens groups, similar to Neighborhood Watch programs in the United States, have sprung up all around Iraq. So far, more than 67,000 Iraqi citizens have volunteered to protect their communities, the colonel said. Of those, 39,000 are paid to do so, he said. Many CLCs, as they are known, are Sunni, Stanton said, but increasing numbers of Shiites also are joining.
“The CLCs represent to a lot of people the possibility of a normal life,” the colonel said. “I think that’s a big thing that we kind of miss in all our euphoria about the fact that they have saved us a lot of lives; … it’s a good deal from the Iraqi’s perspective too. Because, you know, life in Iraq for the past three years hasn’t been a lot of fun, and they’re all of a sudden living better than they have in a long time.”
The concerned-citizen movement was initially sparked in Anbar province, where Sunni sheiks sick of insurgent violence urged villagers to stand up to terrorists, many of them home-grown, egged-on and handsomely financed by al Qaeda operatives. Recently, Shiite sheiks, sometimes working in concert with their Sunni counterparts, have urged their followers to do the same, the colonel said.
“In communities that are mixed, a lot of the people are working together,” Stanton said. “We had this great example recently where the eight sheiks, four Sunni and four Shiia, were kidnapped by the (al Qaeda in Iraq). … They offered to let one of the Shiia sheiks go, and he refused. He wasn’t going to leave his Sunni compatriots there to face the music alone.”
Dramatic unity like that of the kidnapped sheiks notwithstanding, the colonel said, some in Iraq’s Shiite population, which is by far the country’s majority, fear that inviting Sunnis to be part of Iraq’s government could usher in the return of a Baathist-style regime like that used by Saddam Hussein to crush Shiites for decades.
“The Shiia are like an enormous mouse that’s very, very afraid of a tiny lion,” Stanton said. “But in actuality they don’t really have anything to fear in terms of losing the government to the Sunnis.”
By rising up against terrorists like al Qaeda in Iraq, rather than attacking Iraq’s Shiite-led government, Stanton said, Sunnis are proving they want to be part of a peaceful solution, although that ultimately will take time.
“We’re just happy they’re not shooting at each other anymore,” he said. “To get these guys to where they don’t just instinctively distrust and hate each other is going to (take) generations.”
(David Mays works for the New Media branch of American Forces Press Service.)