NEWS | March 8, 2008

260 returning Iraqi families receive aid

By Tami Hillis Sgt. 1st Class, Army News Service

FOB KALSU, Iraq (March 18, 2008) — Waving their flags of peace, members of the Mamouri and Khazraj tribes walked toward the Gharani tribe, led by Sheikh Muhammed.

Sheikh Muhammed and the Gharani tribe welcomed the returning displaced tribes with open arms.

Tears rolled down the faces of some tribe members as famous poems were recited. The Arab custom being performed was a welcoming home tradition. First to recite a poem was the Gharani tribe, followed by the Mamouri and Khazraj tribes. All tribes sang and danced in a display of acceptance and welcome.

"Those feelings and poems are important to the Arab culture," said Lt. Col. Dane Barksdale, commander of 1st Battalion, 76th Field Artillery, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

The recitation of poems and meeting of the three tribes marked one of their first gatherings since the families were displaced more than three years ago due to sectarian violence in the area.

"There were a lot of problems in the area we call the Golden Hills and the Obeidi region," Barksdale said. "Now with the security structure there, with the Sons of Iraq, the Iraqi Army and us, it’s safe for these families to come back home. They all want peace."

Coalition forces and the Iraqi Army helped these 260 families get back on their feet through a humanitarian aid mission March 11 just outside Patrol Base Copper.

The driving force behind getting the families to return was persuasion by Brig. Gen. Abdul Amir, commander of 2nd Brigade, 8th Iraqi Army Division.

"This was an Iraqi-envisioned mission and we just helped execute it with them," said Barksdale, who has been in command for 21 months. "This was the largest humanitarian mission we’ve done so far. Only the male members of the family were at the gathering, but after they get their homes and the area to a point that they feel secure then they’ll bring their families back."

Approximately 120 food assistance bags were distributed. One bag can sustain a family of four for a week’s period and contains rice, beans, sugar, cooking oil, tea, tomato paste and spices.

In addition to the food assistance bags, the tribes were also given a reconstruction kit containing bags of cement, bricks, wood - 4 x 4s and sheets of plywood - and various carpentry tools.

"It breaks your heart seeing their homes destroyed and they have so far to go until their lives are back to normal," Barksdale said. "But they’re just putting their heads down and getting to work."

In addition to the humanitarian aid, Barksdale said, Amir has involved the Government of Iraq with irrigation projects in the area and is working on getting electricity problems fixed.

"He gets things done," Barksdale said. "It’s great to see an Iraqi leader who is engaged in his government. He took the leaders of those tribes to Hillah to speak with the governor of Babil, and he’s also taken them to Baghdad to see the governor there. He is a very involved leader."