Before now poetry has taken notice
Of wars, and what are wars but politics
Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody?
from "Build Soil"
Robert Frost

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Militias

I have written previously about some of the major distinctions in the structure of the Iraqi Security Forces. Over the course of the last year, I have had the opportunity many times to see various Iraqi units in action. The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police have greatly increased in number- there were few of either evident in Ramadi last October, and they are everywhere now. I like to see IAs and IPs; I like to see that Iraqis fighting for their own country. However, the guys I really like to see are the PSF and Neighborhood Watch fighters.

I have witnessed the appearance of local fighters in an area several times- an advent that is normally followed quickly by relative peace.
Tribal fighters man a checkpoint near the Euphrates

The first area in which I saw local fighters appear was along the Euphrates river near Falluja. The newly-formed Neighborhood Watch was controlled by the sheik I mentioned in "ISF Primer"- the one that was wounded fighting American troops in the 2004 battle for Falluja. It is mainly because of him that so many units began calling the neighborhood watch the "Good Bad Guys". There are many Iraqis like this sheik and his men, former insurgents who have grown to see Americans as allies and al-Qaeda and foreign fighters as the real threat to their future. The region controlled by the sheik is marked by fighters manning checkpoints- originally hasty affairs built from rusted engine parts and cinder brick, and upgraded to sand-filled plastic Jersey barriers as the local forces transitioned to PSF.

Children make their way to school

Now, the sheik commands a company of PSF fighters, as well as unincorporated Neighborhood Watch along his eastern border. He receives funds fom the Iraqi government to provide a stipend for his men and to help pay for equipment. As far as I am aware, there has been only one attack in his territory since the local citizens stood up- a double IED strike one night that was followed by the PSF going house to house looking for the bomber. The problems and friction that many feared have not developed, even during the transition from the Marine unit that initially held the area to their successors.
The second time I saw a local militia form, it happened almost overnight. The region was an agricultural area northeast of Ramadi- it was a bad area, one that we frequently patrolled and often found IEDs in. Blast holes lined the roads, and at some places nearly blocked the narrow, elevated lanes. Two companies of Marines had spent months trying to gain control of the area- mainly on foot, because the roads were continually seeded with IEDs. One day, the ever-elusive enemy launched mortars at us while we paused at a Combat Outpost. None of the rounds hit our patrol or the COP- however, at least one hit a school. We took four children and three adults to Camp Taqaddum, near Habbaniyah, for medical care. One more little girl died later at TQ, and more had been killed down in the village. In all, twelve children died.

The COP minutes before the transformational attack
The next time we patrolled the route, later that week, there were militia fighters standing alongside Marines all along the road. We never found another IED in the area. I recently spoke with a Chief Warrant Officer who had been serving at the COP during the transformation. He did not know it had been our platoon in the area that day, but he directly credited our aid and the PSYOPS followup as the events that sparked the transformation. The Marines had spent months laying the groundwork- interfacing with the villagers, offering aid, and sweeping for bad guys. The Iraqis weren't buying into it. In one day, that changed. I was told that the Army PSYOPS unit attached to the Marines put on "the show of a lifetime". They went out onto the roads proselytizing via loudspeaker: "The insurgents say they are here to help you, but they only kill your children. The Americans are the only ones you can trust to help." They opened the mike up to the villagers, and the response was overwhelming. People came from their houses to tell the insurgents "You killed my daughter. I will not sleep, I will not eat until I see you die!". Iraqis came up to tell about the strange men that had appeared, threatening to kill families if they were not provided with shelter. They led Marines to caches and IEDs. Perhaps most importantly, they began to work with the Marines to secure their villages. Now, the Marines are gone, save for a small contingent left on the main road to the south.

A soldier gives 1st aid to an adult wounded in the mortar attack


Standing up to the insurgents is not without risk. There have been several times that our patrol has passed dusty little cemeteries nestled among the trees, clustered with mourners burying fallen brothers. The non-uniformed forces in Iraq such as PSF or NW are in danger from multiple sides- from insurgents who wish to kill them, and from trigger-happy Americans who may shoot them thinking they are the enemy. Both have happened on occasion, but the tribesmen continue to serve.

Mourners gather at the funeral for 7 fighters killed by insurgents

Insurgents still hold out in Zaidon , sandwiched between Falluja and the Euphrates. The bombs there have gotten bigger and more numerous, as well as appearing in previously calm areas and including VBIEDs. Recently, a stretch of several bad days saw multiple trucks from each route clearance patrol in the area strike IEDs. There is a possible light in the tunnel, though- several new classes of PSF have just graduated, and some of those men are serving now in Zaidon. IED activity has already been markedly reduced. If the past is any indication, the Iraqi effort will spread wider and encompass the entire area, helping American troops to bring calm to one of the last major centers of violence in al-Anbar province.

14 comments:

  1. Great post TD. I'm getting more hopeful about Iraq every day, especially Anbar. Stay safe.

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  2. Terrific post; I've linked back to you here: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2007/07/re-militias.html

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  3. It's good info. Thanks in part to you for this blog, I'm joining the Army Nation Guard as a combat engineer. Good news like this makes leaving college and life, with the inevitable deployment in the persuit of principals, seem far more gratifying a sacrifice with the assuring confirmation that we can, or more importantly the Iraqis, can win in Iraq. That our borthers and sisters in the Middle East will have a swing at freedom and the persiut of happiness gives me fuel to follow in your footsteps. Thanks.

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  4. Another in a line of many great post TD, we do not hear much of this on the home front. Keep up the good work and stay safe.

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  5. TD-

    Thanks as always for providing real time insignt and information. The facts on the ground are far more convincing than the political yammering inside the beltway in DC. Keep telling it like it is!

    www.greensrealworld.blogspot.com

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  6. Yes, thank you. These posts are invaluable!

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  7. Seriously, write a book and cash out man.

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  8. Anonymous23/7/07 08:05

    I agree with all the other posts...great words from someone who really knows! You've got a way with words and a wonderful insight. Keep on giving us the news we need to hear.

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  9. Becky - Torrance, CA23/7/07 10:30

    I want to Thank you for not only fighter for us but also for reporting to us what is going on. I think too many people in the US want to say that what is happening in Iraq is bad but they are only hearing what the media wants us to hear and not what is really happening. I have on more than one occassion printed out your stories with the pictures and given them to those that like to open their mouth even though they know nothing what is really happening.

    Thanks for keeping us informed and keeping us safe. Stay safe! God Bless
    Becky - Torrance California

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  10. Yep, good to be able to get into discussions basd on information rather than speculation.

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  11. Donna, Los Osos, CA23/7/07 21:49

    Keep safe, and thank you. You are a true treasure. God bless you.

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  12. If one looks real hard, or listens to certain talk shows, you can get general reports that things are improving in Iraq. But to get the day to day details that you provide are invaluable. Thanks for the info and thank you for your service to our country.

    Ron M.
    Ocala, FL

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  13. The white on black is almost impossible to read and provides pains in the derriere!

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