By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 5, 2007 - Iraqi citizens increasingly are providing crucial information to rout out terrorists in southern Baghdad, a military commander said today. "Now that the tribes, in cooperation with Iraqi and coalition forces, have been able to drive the bulk of the al Qaeda terrorists out of the area, the tribes are now much more willing to come forward," Army Col. Michael Kershaw told online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call from Iraq.
Kershaw commands 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, known as the "Commando Brigade," deployed out of Fort Drum, N.Y. and assigned in Iraq to Multinational Division Center. He and his soldiers have spent the past 14 months working to rid southern Baghdad of insurgents and empower citizens to do the same.
"As I got on this road today, a local concerned citizen group drove up in a pickup truck with a cache of 24 artillery rounds that had been buried in one of the local farms, and they brought those forward to us," Kershaw said. "Those were clearly intended for use as IEDs, and they brought those forward for us to destroy."
Many such "concerned citizen groups" function as auxiliary police officers throughout Iraq, patrolling neighborhoods they know well, then reporting suspicious activity to Iraqi and coalition forces. Thousands who belong to the various groups, including some with experience in the Saddam Hussein-era military, have formally applied for paid Iraqi police or army positions.
"The Iraqi army officers, as they have gone out to coordinate with and inspect these concerned citizen units, they're talking in many cases to members of the former army, some of whom ... they served with and at least know by reputation," Kershaw explained. "This serves to bridge a huge gap amongst these kind of sectarian fears that we hear so much that exist in Iraq."
Better communication between citizens and security forces as well as coalition-initiated conversations with Shiia and Sunni tribal leaders in the area have resulted in greater mobility for ordinary Iraqis, the colonel said.
"I drove down that road today with civilians who come in through an Iraqi army checkpoint, travel the road freely and then exit through one of our checkpoints," Kershaw explained. "And as security has improved, we've been able to open up more and more these type of routes to show the citizens a tangible benefit for their participating not just in their own security but ridding these areas of al Qaeda."
Kershaw said hopes such tangible results made possible by his soldiers assisting Iraqi security forces and local citizens will be a lasting legacy. "I think one of the things that we're going to be able to leave behind is an area that's better than when we found it," he said.