By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 18, 2008 - The concerned local citizens groups in Iraq have made a huge impact in areas that were once al Qaeda fiefdoms, and the program is expanding to include the economic aspects of the counterinsurgency fight, Army Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr. said today during a phone interview from Iraq. Grigsby commands the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team. He is responsible for an area east of Baghdad that is the size of Rhode Island.
Grigsby's area of operations contains a mix of Shiia and Sunni neighborhoods, and the concerned local citizens program has brought security. With 1.2 million people, the murder rate is now about equal with that of Detroit, the colonel said.
Coalition and Iraqi officials want to provide a means to continue progress made by the area's concerned citizens groups by establishing the Iraqi Civilian Conservation Force, Grigsby said.
The concerned local citizens man checkpoints and have developed a good working relationship with the Iraqi National Police, Iraqi army and coalition forces in the area, Grigsby said. There are roughly 4,600 members of the concerned local citizens groups in the area, all organized by local sheikhs.
Coalition officials think about 25 percent of the concerned local citizens will transfer to the local police departments or the national police.
"We have to create gainful employment for the rest," Grigsby said. "In this culture, providing for one's family is a grave matter of honor. We've known all along that the CLCs were a temporary expedient."
The Iraqi Civilian Conservation Force is based on the U.S. version formed in the early 1930's to put unemployed young men to work during the Great Depression. The Iraqi version will pave roads, conduct neighborhood sanitation and work on other infrastructure improvements.
"They will accomplish civil works projects as determined by the mayor's council and the sheikhs, and provide a way to earn an honorable living without resorting to the extremists," the colonel said.
There are around 320 men in the group now in Grigsby's area. "They will provide the template for other groups when they are ready to transfer out of the security role," he said.
In addition, the program aims to provide scholarships to concerned local citizens to attend vocational schools. Grigsby said the command is also providing funding to a local brick factory that will potentially employ 7,000 more people by spring, and they are sponsoring a small-business program that provides training and loans for people to start businesses.
With unemployment in the area around 40 percent, "We have to increase the employment rate because idle hands will attract insurgents," Grigsby said.
All of this is done in close coordination with local tribal leaders. "In this country, if you cut the sheikhs out, you might as well tell them to go work for the extremists," Grigsby said. "They have to be part of this."
The program is also beginning in other parts of Iraq.