U.S., Iraqi Troops Transform ‘Purple Heart Boulevard’
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 5, 2007 U.S. soldiers called Haifa Street in Baghdad “Purple Heart Boulevard” for the trouble they encountered on the street. Today, U.S. and Iraqi forces are teaming to provide security for the Iraqis living on Haifa Street. The street is the heartbeat of the Karkh District, a neighborhood of 250,000 people on the west side of the Tigris River.
Army Col. Bryan T. Roberts, the commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division, has responsibility for the section. He spoke to Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Baghdad today.
“Our brigade, partnered with the Iraqi National Police Brigade, began to operate in Karkh in January,” Roberts said. “Every day, insurgents attacked coalition forces and innocent civilians. In January, there were 87 attacks on coalition forces, and 53 murder victims of sectarian violence.”
Before that, the district had become a support base for terrorists and groups ranging from al Qaeda in Iraq to criminal gangs.
“Haifa street was largely abandoned,” Roberts said. “Its few residents couldn't go out on the streets due to threats of snipers and roving bands of criminals. The residents that did stay in the area only came out at night to scavenge for food and water.”
The brigade launched a number of clearing and combat operations and saw an almost immediate drop in attacks on both civilians and security forces. In May, there were 35 attacks in Karkh, a drop of 60 percent.
“Even more impressive is the decrease in sectarian murders – four in the month of May, down 94 percent from January's 53,” Roberts said. “With improved security and the drop in violence, we have been able to focus on another of our primary missions, working with local leaders to improve essential services and economic opportunities in central Baghdad.”
A big part of that effort is the Haifa Street Project, the colonel said. “We believe that the revitalization of Karkh must begin with this icon, Haifa Street,” he said. “The goal of the Haifa Street Project is to make Haifa Street a safer, cleaner and better place to live.”
The Haifa Street effort consists of about 20 projects that demonstrate visible signs of change and a return to normalcy -- from eliminating graffiti and patching bullet holes to improving soccer fields and picking up trash consistently.
The second part of the project is to improve essential services for the residents. This included repair and maintenance to the sewer system, water delivery, school and clinic renovations and improving electrical grids.
Roberts said that this week, local workers employed under a coalition contract finished cleaning all the main and neighborhood sewer lines in the district. “All Iraqi citizens deserve a healthy, sanitary and safe environment, and we are dedicated to making this happen in Karkh,” he said.
The third aspect of the plan is to keep up the successful coalition and Iraqi security force partnership.
“Karkh is patrolled day and night by both coalition and Iraqi security forces, and checkpoints and joint security stations have been established where Iraqis and Americans are working side by side,” the colonel said. “We have a great partnership with our Iraqi security force brethren who are making a major contribution to the Baghdad security plan every day.”
The proof is in the usage. Haifa Street, while still occasionally dangerous, is no longer the Purple Heart Boulevard. “We are on the right track here in Karkh, and the continued downward trend in violence is a good indicator of things to come,” Roberts said. “Karkh is once again a bustling district – cars, horses and donkey-drawn carts, people and markets fill the streets.”
Roberts said the enemy will continue to try to undermine the progress being made. “We will maintain a stable and secure environment with Iraqi security forces and improve essential services, economics and governance with the local leaders of Karkh,” he said.