Najaf, Kufa Take on Sheen of Renewal
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Sept. 7, 2004 The Iraqi sister cities of Najaf and Kufa bustle with activity as Iraqis and U.S. Marines and sailors work together on reconstruction efforts started after fighting in the cities ceased Aug. 28.
Local Iraqi citizens, government leaders, security forces and reconstruction and cleanup workers are joining in the effort to re-establish a normal life for the cities' citizens and improve infrastructure to its pre-fighting condition, U.S. military officials said.
At the request of local leaders, explosive ordnance disposal Marines continue to assist Iraqi police, National Guardsmen and two battalions of Iraqi intervention forces to clear weapons caches and improvised explosive devices hidden by militia loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the holy Wadi al- Salem cemetery and Old City. Some 240 IEDs have been discovered and disabled in the sacred site and along roads in the Old City, officials said.
Iraqi security forces report that locals and cemetery caretakers have voluntarily joined in the clean-up effort, moving weapons caches alongside the cemetery's roads for easy pick-up by Iraqi forces. Large amounts of weapons and ammunition continue to be uncovered in buildings surrounding the shrine and in a large parking garage west of it.
Iraqi security forces also continue to maintain an active security presence in the cities. Iraqi National Guardsmen and police man vehicle checkpoints as other policemen patrol the cities and conduct cordon-and-knock operations to find and confiscate illegal weapons and ammunition caches.
The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit has resumed training Iraqi National Guardsmen in Najaf and also is conducting presence patrols around the two cities to identify areas in need of reconstruction projects and to monitor the progress of civil-military projects already under way, officials said.
Civil affairs Marines and soldiers attached to the MEU continue to work closely with the governor's office to identify future projects and critical services in need of restoration and to procure funding for them. Projects are making headway while construction efforts are in full swing, officials said.
For more than a week, eight clean-up crews have made a difference around the streets of the Imam Ali Shrine and Old City as they methodically clear rubble and trash from the streets in the neighborhood. Each all-Iraqi crew consists of one project manager, 10 supervisors and 100 workers who will be paid for two weeks to conduct the cleanup. Funding for these projects was received from the Commanders Emergency Response Program. CERP funds come from a U.S. congressional appropriation to the Defense Department to pay for collateral damage caused by combat operations and to fund other humanitarian and reconstruction projects.
Najaf and Kufa will take part in a $4.8 million CERP funds allocation for the provinces of Najaf and Qadisiyah that will cover rebuilding costs this month. Other CERP projects in the two cities include funds to repair schools damaged in the fighting, improve conditions at the city's Human Rights Center and repair critical facilities providing life-support services to the local people. Schools are expected to open on time for the beginning of the school year in a few weeks.
Around noon Sept. 3, more than 200 anti-Sadr demonstrators took to the streets surrounding the Imam Ali Shrine, carrying banners and chanting anti-Sadr slogans urging him and his militia to depart the city. During the same day, calls for a demonstration against the local government by Grand Ayatollah Hassani, a radical Shiite cleric, never materialized.
More than 250 Iraqi men congregated at the Waffa police station in Najaf Sept. 2 to volunteer their time, stating they'd work for free with the hopes they could get hired in the future. The police chief and the Iraqi Interior Ministry are working the screening process for these men.
The local government recently established a claims office in the Human Rights Center in Najaf, which began taking claims Aug. 29. A radio and TV ad campaign prepared by the local government immediately began notifying residents about the establishment of this office once fighting in the city ceased. The office initially will process claims for death, injury and loss of residence. Claims for property damage will subsequently be processed.
U.S. military officials listed weapons from Sadr's militia that have been retrieved from the cemetery, buildings surrounding the Imam Ali Shrine and numerous other locations since fighting ended Aug. 28, including:
- 784 AK-47 assault rifles;
- 143 various other rifles;
- 157 rocket-propelled grenade launchers;
- 53 60 mm mortar tubes;
- 26 60 mm mortar tripods;
- 20 60 mm mortar baseplates;
- 16 82 mm mortar tubes;
- Three 82 mm mortar tripods;
- Four 82 mm mortar baseplates;
- One 120 mm mortar tube;
- 49 medium and heavy machine guns; and
- An unspecified number of pistols.
Officials said 1,258 weapons were found in all. They also listed more than 10,500 munitions found in the cemetery, in the Old City and during vehicle checkpoints by Iraqi security forces and 11th MEU forces that have been collected and destroyed since Aug. 28. These included:
- 242 improvised explosive devices;
- Three bombs, including a 250-kilogram bomb located in a street intersection north of the Imam Ali Shrine;
- 925 mortars (60, 82 and 120 mm);
- 40 grenades;
- 273 rockets;
- Six guided missiles;
- 41 mines;
- 108 fuses for IEDs;
- 42 miscellaneous explosives;
- 8,930 rounds of small-arms ammunition; and
- 58 other explosives, such as pyrotechnics and a depth charge.
(Courtesy of Multinational Force Iraq.)