The governor of Salah ad Din Province, Hamed Shekti, shakes the hand of a shop owner in a Samarra marketplace in January. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Doheny)
SAMARRA (April 8, 2008) — After completion of a recent operation reconnecting old economic partners, the people of the northern-Iraqi city of Samarra can breathe again.
The “Bastogne” Soldiers of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, recently finished conducting multiple operations that cleared al-Qaida fighters and other enemy extremist from the desert areas west and south of Samarra, including the southern portion of the city.
Over the past year al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) has had a chokehold on the “Fallujah Road”, the main road between al Anbar province’s population centers and Samarra.
They have operated freely on and around the Salah ad Din Province portion of the route, restricting travel between the two areas.
Al-Qaida had forced civilian traffic to alternate routes, choking this critical economic line of communication. The enemy did this by hijacking and kidnapping drivers; preying upon helpless travelers and truck drivers in the secluded areas of the desert away from security forces.
According to Maj. Jim DeOre, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment operations officer, “this had many Iraqis traveling considerable distances out of the way, forcing them to use a great deal of fuel and energy in the process.
“The restriction of travel on this route strangled the economic growth of the city and its surrounding towns and villages,” said DeOre. “Opening this road displays to the Iraqis that Iraqi security (ISF) and coalition forces (CF) are making positive gains in their efforts to remove AQI’s criminal influence over the people.”
These enemy extremist had smothered this passageway by kidnapping, murdering, and extorting money from any civilians traveling on the route. The emplacement of improvised explosive devices (IED) ultimately made civilian travel on this thoroughfare almost non-existent, according to DeOre, whose battalion controls the area where most of the route runs.
The opening of the route offers more convenient travel for people looking to drive between Salah ad Din and Anbar. This freedom of movement for Iraqis and is attributed to the construction of checkpoints along the route and the establishment of the Sons of Iraq (SoI) groups manning them.
By having a 24-hour, 7-day a week over watch on the route, Iraqi and coalition forces can ensure AQI doesn’t return to the area and terrorize the local populace.
“These security positions deny use of the road to the criminal activity of AQI fighters, thereby making the area safer for people traveling on the road and those who live in the area,” DeOre said.Captain Nathan Hicks, commander of Delta Company, 2-327, said SoI members in his unit’s area are pointing out hiding places AQI use to conceal their bombs and dangerous weapons. Hick’s unit, responsible for most of the route running into Samarra, routinely speaks with SoI groups in its area seeking out information leading to weapons caches and enemy hideouts.“The greatest effect the SoI have on the people here is making their homes and towns safer,” said Hicks. “Brave men are standing up SoI groups to deny AQI sanctuary there.”
If coalition forces are correct in their assessment that this route will stimulate the economy of Samarra, thousands of people will see and feel the positive impact. The transport of goods and services will allow the economy growth of the city of Samarra, and the surrounding areas along the route. It will also improve the quality of life for thousands of Iraqi citizens.
One day during the first week of the route opening, a coalition force patrol had counted over 240 fuel trucks traveling on the road.
“Agricultural and fuel trucks travel this route by the hundreds everyday,” said DeOre. “We believe there is no doubt that this movement of goods between the provinces will stimulate the economy of large and small towns along the entire length of the road as well as the cities that are now linked by its opening.”