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With Improved Security, Basra Comes Back to Life

By Marine Corps 1st Lt. Brian Block
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq, May 13, 2008 – The security environment in Basra, Iraq, has improved dramatically since 1st Iraqi Army Quick Reaction Force fought its way into the city April 1.

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An Iraqi soldier from 1st Iraqi Army Quick Reaction Force stops to talk with a local shopkeeper in the Hyyaniyah neighborhood of Basra, Iraq, April 19, 2008. The Iraqi quick-reaction force has been conducting clear-and-search operations in Basra since April 1. They were deployed from Anbar province by the Iraqi government to bolster local Iraqi security forces during Operation Charge of the Knights, the ongoing effort to eliminate criminal gangs and militias in the southern Iraqi city. U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Brian Block, Multinational Force West
  

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Criminal elements had taken over parts of the city from local Iraqi security forces and imposed their own rule on a city that once was a cultural and commercial beacon for all of Iraq.

"This city was being held hostage by a small group of criminal militias," said Marine Corps Col. Robert F. Castellvi, military training team advisor for 1st Iraqi Army Quick Reaction Force.

Music and Western influence were prohibited; women faced death threats if they ventured outside their homes dressed in anything other than a full burkah; and intersections were used as mortar positions.

In less than a month, life in Basra couldn't be more different.

The Iraqi soldiers continue to pursue criminals and outlaws through Basra's neighborhoods, but as Quick Reaction Force 1, formerly 1st Brigade, moves through neighborhoods such as Jumhuriya, the sound of gunfire no longer is common.

"The people are happier now," said Marine Corps Maj. Robert S. Washington, senior military transition team advisor for 2nd Battalion, Quick Reaction Force 1. "They can go out; they can go to the markets."

Stores opened early in the morning as the soldiers cleared houses next door, looking for weapons, bombs and wanted criminals. Children walked to school past Iraqi army Humvees and posed for pictures with soldiers.

In Jumhuriya, local citizens volunteered information that led to the arrest of nearly 10 suspected local gang members and the discovery of illegal weapons and improvised explosive devices.

"[The Iraqi soldiers] are getting a lot of their information by going out and talking to the local civilians," Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Matthew S. Weant, staff intelligence advisor for the Iraqi battalion. "We've had people lead us directly to weapons caches and IEDs; even bringing them to us."

There is more to be done in Basra. The Iraqi government and coalition forces are working with local leaders to address issues with sanitation, infrastructure and economy that will provide long-lasting improvements to the quality of life for local residents.

Recently, local officials opened an open-air market in the neighborhood of Jameat in an effort to boost the local economy.

Local Iraqi security forces continue to hold the ground taken by the quick-reaction force to guard against a possible resurgence of criminal activity. But, boosted by the confidence of success, they say they are ready for whatever may happen.

(Marine Corps 1st Lt. Brian Block serves in Public Affairs with the 1st Iraqi Army Quick Reaction Force Military Training Team, Multinational Force West.)

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Related Sites:
Multinational Force West
Multinational Force Iraq

Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn Iraqi soldier from Quick Reaction Force 1, 1st Iraqi Army Quick Reaction Force, speaks with a local boy in the Quibla neighborhood of Basra, Iraq, while conducting clear-and-search operations April 12, 2008. The Iraqi quick-reaction force deployed to Basra onApril 1, 2008, and immediately began reinforcing local Iraqi security forces in Operation Charge of the Knights, the ongoing Iraq government effort to remove criminal gangs and militias from Basra. U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Brian Block, Multinational Force West  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA vendor in a public market in the Hyyaniyah neighborhood of Basra, Iraq, points while talking to Iraqi soldiers from the 1st Iraqi Army Quick Reaction Force, April 19, 2008. The 1st Iraqi Army Quick Reaction Force has been conducting clear-and-search operations in Basra since arriving in the city April 1, 2008. The deployment is part of ongoing efforts by the Iraqi government to combat criminal gangs and militias that had been operating in the city. U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Brian Block, Multinational Force West  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA soldier from the 1st Iraqi Army Quick Reaction Force stands guard next to a group of children in the Huteen neighborhood of Basra, Iraq, April 24, 2008. The Iraqi quick-reaction force has been conducting clear and search operations in Basra against criminal elements since April 1, 2008, when they were deployed from Anbar province by the Iraqi government. U.S. Marine Corps photos by 1st Lt. Brian Block, Multinational Force West  
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