Sadr City Weapons Buyback Ends With Mixed Success
By Spc. Jan Critchfield, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 27, 2004 Iraqi soldiers and police, and U.S. soldiers have completed their project with local leaders to facilitate a weapons buyback program to make life safer for the residents of Baghdad's Sadr City section.
Soldiers of the 306th Iraqi National Guard Battalion unload
one of hundreds of 155 mm artillery shells to be disposed of during a weapons
buyback program in eastern Baghdad. Anti-Iraqi forces commonly use these shells
to make improvised explosive devices. Photo by Spc. Jan Critchfield,
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Beginning Oct. 13, the Iraqi government designated three locations in eastern Baghdad as collection points. Thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, anti-tank mines, rocket-propelled-grenade launchers and other arms were collected through Oct. 22. Anti-aircraft weapons and explosives commonly used in improvised explosive devices were also collected.
In return, those who turned weapons in were issued vouchers for cash payment of an amount based on the type of weapon that they turned in.
The program was run completely by Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government, including the 306th Iraqi National Guard Battalion and local Iraqi police. Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team were positioned several hundred meters away from the turn-in sites to provide added security.
"Any weapons we can get off the street is great," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Lael Eason, a liaison officer with the Iraqi Guard battalion. "We haven't received [an incoming] mortar here in ... two weeks. I'm not sure why that is, if it's the weapon buyback program or ... the political things that are going on."
Eason noted there had been a large quantity of mortars turned in during the buyback program. "What we've seen are a lot of 60 mm mortars with the base plate and also [122 mm mortars]," he said.
Regardless of the reason, soldiers at Camp Hope here have experienced a period of relative calm since the program started.
"The weapons buyback program is the result of an initiative by (Muqtada) al- Sadr's militia to disarm and disband," said 1st Brigade Combat Team spokesman Capt. Brian O'Malley. "The Iraqi government is running the weapons buyback to support the initiative taken by the militia."
O'Malley said that, based on independent surveys conducted in the area, the majority of people in eastern Baghdad want the fighting there to stop. He said that if hostilities cease, his brigade could begin restoring essential services to the area.
"We are still cautiously optimistic," O'Malley said. "If there's no violence, we are going in and setting up infrastructure projects all over Sadr City."
1st BCT, alongside various Baghdad municipalities, has already organized several hundred thousand dollars in infrastructure projects in the southern half of Sadr City, where security is better. O'Malley said projects estimated at over 100 million dollars are planned if the area remains stable.
(Army Spc. Jan Critchfield is assigned to the 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)