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Grass-roots Security Efforts Help Drive Out Insurgents

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2007 – Grass-roots security efforts by locals in eastern Baghdad province are helping coalition forces push insurgents out and officials are planning a fifth patrol base in the region, a senior official in the area said today.

“Iraq has lost an unforgivable number of innocent lives at the hands of extremists. The Iraqi people are fed up with it,” said Army Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., commander of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. The team is operating in the Multinational Division Center.

Grigsby’s forces deployed to Iraq as part of the five-brigade surge. About 3,500 troops operate in an area about the size of Rhode Island adjacent to Baghdad, on the eastern side along the Diyala and Tigris rivers.

He told civilian defense experts in a conference call from Iraq that before there had been a lot of “back-and-forth” in the region, with insurgents reclaiming towns as soon as coalition forces left. But the surge has enabled troops to place patrol bases in the larger areas. Now troops live in the communities maintaining the security and gaining the trust of the locals.

The patrol bases in the communities enabled forces to build strong relationships with local government officials, the Iraq security forces and tribal leaders, Grigsby said.

“Our efforts to assist the government and spark the economy along with constant presence has demonstrated to the population and its key leaders that we are trustworthy and committed to the cause of stabilizing the communities that we work in,” he said.

“Now we’ve got a new group of allies in that fight. And we’ve got the Iraqi people coming to us and saying ‘How can we help? I don’t want to live like this anymore,’” he said. “They are helping us thicken the lines in our security efforts.”

Sixteen so-called “Concerned Citizen” groups now total 1,600 volunteers, he said. All volunteers are registered with the coalition forces and tested to see if they can later transition into the Iraqi police force. Volunteers are given uniforms, but no weapons or ammunition. If they perform well, they are later offered a paid security contract. Local coalition force company commanders interact with the groups and provide oversight.

Some groups are a mix of Sunni and Shi’a, Grigsby said. About 70 percent of the area is Sunni and 30 percent Shi’a.

Grigsby said that much of the Shi’a extremist network in the region has been knocked out.

“Right now, the Narwan (region) does not have any more Shi’a extremist footholds. They’re struggling so bad, it’s just incredible,” Grigsby said. “They put a new guy in command and we take him out and … [then] we’re going after the next guy they put in command. Right now they’re asking who wants to be command of the Shi’a extremists in Narwan and no one wants to take the job.”

Narwan is the site for the next planned patrol base, he said.

In areas where with concerned citizen groups, coalition forces are seeing an increase in tips and fewer acts of violence. As a result, recent operations in the area have netted big dividends for coalition forces.

Since June 15, these forces have killed 113 insurgents, captured 364 suspects, found 91 improvised explosive devices and 37 weapons caches, cleared more than 2,000 buildings and searched almost 8,500 vehicles, Grigsby said.

“As more areas stabilize, we’re helping local leaders develop government structures and infrastructure to hold on to those gains,” he said.

Grigsby said he hopes the steady progress will translate into greater economic growth in the region. A provincial reconstruction team is now in the area helping to rebuild local businesses to create more job opportunities. This will help to further deteriorate the insurgents’ already-waning support by locals.

The locals now view the extremists as selfish, out to support only their own agendas, Grigsby said.

“They see [the extremists] as people who don’t care about Iraq. They don’t care about the Iraqis. They don’t care if the young families are able to have power in their houses, able to have clean water and walk their kids to school,” he said. “They are in it for their own individual needs.”

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