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NEWS | May 14, 2008

Iraqis take lead in Sadr City aid effort

By Pfc. April Campbell , MND-B PAO

Iraqi soldiers control a crowd of 300 people gathered in a southwestern neighborhood of the Sadr City district of Baghdad on May 6. The crowd gathered to receive food or building materials distributed by Iraqi soldiers from the 3rd battalion, 42nd brigade, 11th division, in a relief effort. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cohen Young)
Iraqi soldiers control a crowd of 300 people gathered in a southwestern neighborhood of the Sadr City district of Baghdad on May 6. The crowd gathered to receive food or building materials distributed by Iraqi soldiers from the 3rd battalion, 42nd brigade, 11th division, in a relief effort. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cohen Young)

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq (May 15, 2008) – Residents in Sadr City continue to receive humanitarian aid from their local government, the government of Iraq, Iraqi army soldiers and Multi-National Division – Baghdad with the help of the recently opened Civil Military Operations Center and Iraqi Assistance Center at Joint Security Station Thawra 1.

At the CMOC, local government officials, GoI officials and the Iraqi army receive guidance from MND-B Soldiers to plan and carry out operations to better the infrastructure and essential services as well as supply food, water and other necessities to the people of Sadr City.

“The CMOC has done an exceptional job bringing together all of the Iraqi officials, allowing them to take leadership in repairing some of the damages caused by the recent fighting,” said Lt. Col. Frank Curtis, who serves as the commanding officer of the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, 360th Civil Affairs Brigade, Multi-National Division – Baghdad.

“The Iraqi army plans and executes mission in coordination with coalition forces,” continued the Braintree, Mass., native, “but the Iraqis determine the locations and plans the missions.”

Area citizens are beginning to use the center more to help deal with the issues they might have. They can show up in person and receive help dealing with their problems.

To date, 114,000 liters of water have been handed out and approximately 46,000 meals have been given to the area’s residents. Iraqi army soldiers bring the items to the community and deliver them to the people on the streets.

Large appliances, such as 64 generators and 15 stoves, have also been provided for the local residents.

Although the aid provided is needed by those in the area, there is currently not a humanitarian crisis in Sadr City. The problem has more to do with costs than with supply, said Lt. Col. Gerry Messmer, who serves as the division chief of staff for civil military operations with Company A, Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, MND-B.

“Because of restrictions in vehicle movement, there is a reduction of food in some of the markets, but not to critical levels,” said the Interlaken, N.Y., native. “What this has done, in the free market society that they have, is raised prices. The Iraqi Army is taking food and water in to help the poorer people and defray the expensive costs in the markets.”

The CMOC is also working to improve essential services by providing such services as trash cleanup and the water and sewer systems. Officials are working to identify leaks in the sewer and water pipes.

IA soldiers have not forgotten about providing medical care to those in Sadr City. They have been bringing such services to the streets of Sadr City on a regular basis.

“The 11th IA Division doctors have done at least one medical engagement a week, treating the local people,” said Messmer.

They have seen more than 2,500 people over the last three weeks out on the streets in Sadr City. They go to different locations with their vehicles and set up a mobile medial office to treat people right there on the streets, he added.

Residents seeking reparations for damages caused during the recent fighting can go to the Iraqi Assistance Center on a walk-in basis to receive assistance from MND-B Soldiers with the 432nd CA Bn. There are interpreters and an Iraqi lawyer on site to help. The center also provides the ability track their loved ones, who have been detained, said Curtis.

“If it’s damage caused by U.S. forces, we pay to have it repaired, and if it’s damage caused by the Iraqi army or the Iraqi police, they pay for the damages,” said Messmer. “We’ve paid out over $25,000 in damage claims to people.”

Those seeking reparations from the Iraqi security forces are helped by the Iraqi lawyer, who also gives them legal advice and helps to educate them about the Iraqi legal system, Curtis said.

“Over the past three weeks, we’ve seen over 600 people,” he added. “Currently, between 80 and 90 people are coming for help each day.”

While the IA, GoI and Multi-National Division – Baghdad plan to continue with the current aid they are providing, they are also planning for the future.

“We plan to renovate schools and clinics and then refurbish and revitalize the Jamilla Market, a wholesale market that supplies most of Baghdad,” said Messmer.

Ultimately, it is all about Iraqis helping themselves and other Iraqis.

“The people see this,” said Curtis, “and they recognize that they can support their government’s efforts to give them a better, more stable community.”