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'Awakening' in Iraq Signals Citizens' Rise Against al Qaeda

By Capt. Johnny Giroux, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2007 – Determined to rise up against al Qaeda terrorists, concerned local citizens, working together with coalition forces, have started neighborhood watch programs in this area of northern Iraq.

The citizens are calling the movement "Sahwa," an Arabic term that means "awakening."

The neighborhood watch programs were established Nov. 14, two weeks after local citizens approached soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, with the idea. More than 1,000 citizens showed up, ready to be recruited to take up arms in defense against the terrorists in the region.

The program provides the citizens with weapons and a regular paycheck and has the goal not only of providing employment, but also improving security throughout the region.

"This is the biggest thing going on (for the local Iraqis) ... because one, it's putting money in their pockets and stimulating the local economy, and two, these people really want to provide their own security," said Maj. John Allen, 1-87 Infantry operations officer.

These newly drafted members of the local Multaka Night Watch, as they also are known, will take to the streets as sentinels against terrorist activity while receiving salaries based on the effectiveness of their performance.

For example, for every roadside bomb attack that occurs in their neighborhood, a certain amount of money will be withheld from that pay period as a penalty, while consistent periods of tranquility will be rewarded with bonuses.

"What this program is doing is creating significant problems for the insurgents, because it drives a wedge between them and the populace," said Army 2nd Lt. Alan Finnie, 1-87 Infantry. "By taking away the one incentive advantage the insurgents had over the government, namely money, the people now have every reason to reject terrorist intimidation and embrace the responsibility of eliminating (al Qaeda in Iraq) influence in their communities."

As a result, coalition and Iraqi forces benefit from the increased freedom of maneuver provided by the citizens groups, allowing them to more effectively seek out and eliminate the terrorist threat, Finnie said, also noting that many recruits appeared quite enthusiastic.

"It was good to see regular people showing up in street clothes taking pride in their own area so they can stand on their own feet and provide their own security instead of relying on us to do it for them," said Army Cpl. Evan Siegrist, 1-87 Infantry Personal Security Detachment squad leader.

Such a show of force by Iraqi citizens willing to confront terrorists sends a message to insurgents that their destructive influence among the population will no longer be tolerated.

"Al Qaeda in Iraq is threatened by the Sahwa," Allen said as he described immediate intelligence reports of disrupted terrorist movements due to citizens group activity.

The success of this initial recruitment effort marks the beginning of a two week-long initiative to enlist volunteers for the program throughout the 1-87 Infantry Battalion's area of operation.

(Army Capt. Johnny Giroux is assigned to the Multinational Division North Public Affairs Office.)

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1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division


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