By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 10, 2007 - Lacking technology that can see bombs inside cars or explosive vests under clothing, coalition forces are getting help from local concerned citizen groups to get "ahead of the blast" in what officials say is the most effective way to stem those types of violence. Officials are using the surge of tips from local groups to attack networks of insurgent activities. The payoff has been a 60-percent drop in attacks in the country in the past six months, Navy Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, director of communications and deputy spokesman for Multinational Corps Iraq, said in a news briefing to reporters yesterday. There has been a 15-percent drop in improvised explosive device attacks between October and November, he said.
"The most effective way to stop all bombings in Iraq ... is to go after the network that generates the capacity to do that: the financing, the material support, the training, some of the engineering that goes into that. You've got to get, as we say, ahead of the blast," Smith said.
Smith said that once a bomb is buried in a road, placed in a car or strapped in a vest, it is very hard to detect. Tips from citizens help coalition forces attack before insurgents can strike. "These concerned local citizens have proven invaluable to security forces as a source of local intelligence," Smith said.
In Multinational Division Center's area, 94 weapons caches were found in November. Of those, nearly half were found by or with the assistance of concerned local citizens. They either led security forces to the site or turned the material into them, Smith said. The admiral directly credits the cooperation by local citizens with greater stability in that region.
About 72,000 people are active in about 300 concerned local citizens groups across Iraq. About 60,000 of them are paid monthly by contract, with the other 12,000 serving as volunteers. About 18,000 want to serve as permanent members of the Iraqi security forces, Smith said.
In the past six months, almost 1,800 concerned citizen members were trained and are now members of the Iraqi security forces. More than 10,000 Iraqis from Anbar province now serve as Iraqi security forces. This week, Iraqi officials issued orders to hire an additional 2,000 Iraqis into the police, and more than half will be selected from the concerned local citizen program, Smith said.
But their service has not come without sacrifice, Smith said. They often are targeted by insurgents hoping to discourage such groups. On Dec. 7, a female suicide bomber targeted members of the Awakening Council in Muqadiyah, killing 12 concerned local citizens. Smith called it a desperate attempt by al Qaeda to reconstitute in areas where the group has been weakened since the surge of troops to Iraq.
Despite the attacks, Smith said, volunteerism is up for the groups.
"Brave Iraqi citizens continue to step forward to assist in securing their neighborhoods and uniting in their (untiring) efforts to help defeat this al Qaeda and other militant groups," Smith said.