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News | Dec. 21, 2007

Leaders reflect on successes, hope for Baghdad's future

By Master Sgt. Dave Larsen , 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs

Iraqi boys push a cart full of goods through the Doura Market in southern Baghdad's Rashid District, Nov. 29. In January, only a handful of shops were operating here. Now, hundreds of vendors ply their wares in one of Baghdad's busiest business districts. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Charles D. Maib)
Iraqi boys push a cart full of goods through the Doura Market in southern Baghdad’s Rashid District, Nov. 29. In January, only a handful of shops were operating here. Now, hundreds of vendors ply their wares in one of Baghdad’s busiest business districts. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Charles D. Maib)

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - One year, one month and four days. It will be 399 days that the 1st Cavalry Division conducted operations in the Iraqi capital as the Multi-National Division - Baghdad, when they turn the mission back over to the Fort Hood, Texas-based 4th Infantry Division Dec. 19.

With more than a year to review, senior leaders from the First Team were all hard-pressed to pick one single event as the crowning moment of the deployment, but they agree that the implementation of Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon ("enforcing the law"), which began in mid-February, and the surge of security forces into Baghdad neighborhoods was a catalyst to the improved security situation in the Iraqi capital.

"We had the advantage of the surge, having two-and-a-half brigades added to our force structure here," said Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., the commanding general of MND-B and the 1st Cav. Div., and a native of Portola Valley, Calif. "That has really made a difference. It’s allowed us to get out into all parts of the city, to touch places where we really were unable to get to before, and to influence not only the security situation there but also the Iraqi Security Forces who were standing up at the same time."

Iraqis surge, too

It wasn’t just American troops flooding into Baghdad neighborhoods. The Iraqis sent in many more security forces to augment the surge into the capital city.

"Nine Iraqi Army battalions have surged into Baghdad," said Brig. Gen. John F. Campbell, the deputy commanding general for maneuver of MND-B and the 1st Cav. Div. "That’s helped quite a bit."

Additional troops, both Coalition and Iraqi, meant more interaction within Baghdad neighborhoods and with area residents. That daily presence has built trust, and alleviated the grip of fear terrorists and extremists held on the populace.

"They were intimidated by the people who were living among them," Campbell said. "To win this counterinsurgency fight, you’ve got to have the population on your side and the only way to do that is to live out there with them."

That face-to-face daily dealing with the people has proven successful.

"It’s worked because we’re down there with the people," said Campbell, a native of Fairfield, Calif. "Now that we’ve been living inside the muhallas, the people see them there every day. They get more comfortable with Iraqi Security Forces, more comfortable with the Coalition Forces. They know we are going to be there when they need us."

Concerned citizens, volunteer spirit

"The other thing that’s really helped out is the volunteers, the concerned local citizen program that started out in the west and moved into Baghdad," Campbell said. Over time, the volunteer spirit has moved across the Iraqi capital and into every security district, he added.

"The volunteers are coming out in droves," Campbell said. "They’re tired of the violence and they want to take control of their own destiny."

Recruiting drives have been held throughout the city, where volunteer candidates undergo mental and physical screening, determining if they can eventually join the Iraqi Police. Those recruiting drives have been extremely successful.

"We have more volunteers now than we have police (training) slots," Campbell noted. The end-state for securing Baghdad, Campbell said, is for the Iraqi Police to maintain the peace in each neighborhood, like any other major metropolis.

"We’re not there, yet, but the security situation is the best I’ve seen it in 17 months," Campbell concluded.

Environmental change = enhanced security?

What comes first: security or infrastructure and economic improvements? While an improved security situation leads to the conditions for improving living conditions and allowing businesses to flourish, Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the deputy commanding general for support with MND-B and the First Team, said in some cases, security is enhanced by improving living conditions in Baghdad communities and gaining the support of area residents.

"We’ve found that to be true, however, what is more important is to be able to use things like the delivery of services to change to environment for the people," said Brooks, who hails from Alexandria, Va. "And as they begin to realize that someone is doing work on their behalf, especially once they recognize who is doing that work on their behalf, it changes the environment and makes it less hospitable for terrorists, insurgents or other extremists to be able to hide in plain sight among them."

One of the major economic success stories of the First Team’s 15-month deployment is the revitalization of the Doura Market in the southern Rashid District. Early on in the deployment, the area was patrolled by members of the 1st Cav. Div.’s 2nd "Black Jack" Brigade Combat Team.

In January, only a handful of shops were open for business. Now, hundreds of vendors ply their wares in one of Baghdad’s busiest business districts.

"What I have seen from November until now is a tremendous change in the security situation there," said Hampton, Va., native Col. Bryan Roberts, commander of the Black Jack Brigade. "It’s a great feeling. We came here to make a difference in the lives of the people of Baghdad. Everything is thriving. Statistically, there’s a drastic decline in enemy activity and the enemy strongholds in the area. There are physical, visual signs of progress. Everywhere you go things are open and people are working."

Baghdad ‘Icons’

"If you haven’t addressed the things that are iconic, things that are recognizable to the population, then even when you have achieved security, there’s not a perception of security and the environment simply doesn’t change," Brooks said. He pointed to Al Haifa Street in central Baghdad, where extremists were pushed out and programs are in place to improve the area, bring in businesses and have residents return to what was once a daily battle zone in early 2007.

"As we’ve changed the environment for the Iraqis, the Iraqis are the bigger part of the solution now, and I don’t just mean the security forces," he continued. "The population, having been protected and having recognized that their great problem in the past and for the future would be the continued presence of extremists of any ilk - extreme criminals, extreme Shi’ite militiamen, extreme terrorists from Al Qaeda and its affiliated movements. That’s the greatest threat and they know that. They’ve tasted what happens when those elements are pushed aside and that life can go on. They long for the glory days of Baghdad, they really do."

One icon of Baghdad is the Abu Nuwas Market area on the eastern bank of the Tigris River. In years gone by, even before the Saddam Hussein regime, the area was a thriving cultural, business and even tourist area.

On Nov. 24 Abu Nuwas Street held a grand reopening, and Iraqis filled the streets to celebrate the rebirth of this Baghdad cultural landmark.

Sense of hope

Every senior leader stressed that there is still work to be done in Baghdad. Yet, Brooks said that the gains made over the past year can be sustainable if the Iraqi people maintain their resolve. That optimism was echoed by Fil.

"Probably the most significant difference is the city is seeing much reduced violence, significantly improved conditions, not only for security but for the enabling of governance and setting the conditions for the economy to get started, as well," Fil said. "There’s a sense of hope here now among the people that is paying off."