By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
March 16, 2007 – Moving coalition forces out of big forward operating bases and into smaller community-based combat outposts as part of the Baghdad Security Plan has reduced violence and helped to stabilize northwestern Baghdad, a senior Army officer serving there said today. Murders are down by more than half since January in the densely populated 93-square-kilometer area controlled by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, said its commander, Army Col. J.B. Burton.
His troops have found only 10 planted improvised explosive devices this month. That's down from 36 in January, when 89 IEDs were detonated. So far this month, there have been only 21 IED detonations, Burton reported.
About 1 million people live in the area patrolled by Burton's troops. It is principally Shiia-occupied in the northeast, Sunni in the west and southwest, and mixed in the southeast. Sectarian fault lines define the areas, and both Sunni and Shiia extremists fight for control over portions of the city and its citizens, Burton said.
Extremists have used tactics ranging from car bombs to illegal militia control over access to gas stations and food distribution programs to execution-style murders by death squads, Burton said. Such murders are down from 141 in January to 63 in February to only 16 so far in March, he said. But the area has seen an increase in car bombs targeting Shiia gathering places, Burton said, mostly by Sunni extremists.
Burton said he believes this decline is directly attributable to his soldiers living in the neighborhoods and working side by side with the Iraqi security forces.
Originally, the combat outposts were designed solely to create and keep a troop presence in the community. However, they have transformed into combined command posts, or joint security stations, with coalition forces working in cooperation with Iraqi forces. This allows for better and faster information sharing and easier operations planning, Burton said.
"Every day I go out and visit these joint security stations, I see better interoperability, increased command and control processes and increased sharing of information," Burton said. "What we started out with as a means to get coalition forces out into the battlefield has grown into a very promising effort to execute combined operations across western Baghdad."
But, while violence has decreased since implementing the Baghdad Security Plan, Burton was quick to add that it is still too soon to say how long the downturn will last.
"Make no mistake, we are not proclaiming victory yet. There's a lot of tough work ahead, but we are very optimistic," Burton said.
Meanwhile, the lull in violence is giving local governments time to form and operate. Burton said it's also boosting the confidence local Iraqi forces, which he called a "fundamental necessity for improving the quality of life for Iraqis in Baghdad is security."
Within the next month, a provincial reconstruction team will embed itself in the area. The team will work with the local governments to begin improving essential services and infrastructure, Burton said.
Already, his own reconstruction team has been working in the area to increase employment opportunities, which Burton said is a key element of decreasing acts of violence. In Shula and Kadhimiya, his team has worked with local government leaders and the district advisory councils to create municipal jobs and help open small business.
"These are all positive signs, that we see the employment opportunities decreasing the violence, specifically in the Shula and Kadhimiya areas," Burton said. "We hope to export similar programs throughout the rest of the area of responsibility."
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