By Capt. Dan Cannon, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 6, 2008 - Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, wiped the sleep out of their eyes at 4:30 a.m. Jan. 27. They donned their nearly dry uniforms and looked out of their sand-bagged windows, hoping to find that it stopped raining sometime during the night. They were not necessarily looking forward to spending the next 48 hours standing in the rain. As luck would have it, not a drop could be seen falling through the dim light provided by the joint security station lights as they flickered on and off. All the soldiers could hope for was that the rain stayed away for at least the next couple of days.
At 6 a.m., they began combined traffic-control-point operations with citizens helping local security efforts and their counterparts of 1st Battalion, 6th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi National Police Division.
The operation was simple in its tasking, but the purpose had a more complicated goal. As several tons of concrete continue to be placed around Khadra as a security measure, access points had to be manned, and vehicles entering the area had to be searched, or the concrete barriers became nothing more than an almost $1 million eyesore.
The purpose of the operation is to bolster security at these access points to deter enemy logistical movement and indentify possible weaknesses in the wall. To do so, the soldiers spent the next 48 hours searching vehicles with their Iraqi counterparts.
"It got a little backed up this morning, and we were surprised to see the local Iraqi police working the checkpoint with us without even being asked," said Army Staff Sgt. Thomas Taylor, platoon sergeant for Company C's 2nd Platoon. "Without their help this morning, we would have had a line of cars backed up a mile."
The people of Khadra, although hesitant at first, have made it a point to voice their appreciation for the wall that now surrounds their city, Taylor said. As they weigh the inconvenience against the increased security the wall has provided, the majority of Khadra citizens have come to appreciate the barriers, he said.
At 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 28, almost 30 hours into the mission, a local citizen walked up to the checkpoint with a camera man. Army 1st Lt. James Gallagher, platoon leader for 2nd Platoon, found out the men were a news team with "Out There News" working for Channel 4, a British network.
The reporter introduced himself as simply "Osama" and spent the next hour talking with coalition forces, Iraqi security forces and local citizens about security in Khadra. The response Osama received from the people he interviewed mirrored what the soldiers have said throughout the operation.
"The checkpoints make this (area) crowded, but they are worth it," said Omhar, a local man waiting in line to have his vehicle searched. "Before three months, I wouldn't let my children walk to school, but the security has gotten much better, and my children are able to walk to and from school without my supervision."
The local Iraqis are aware that coalition forces are profiling taxis moving into and out of the city, but it has not slowed down the influx of taxi traffic they continue to see at the checkpoints.
"Two months ago, I wouldn't even come into Khadra; lately though, business has been good. and the checkpoints are only a slight inconvenience. They are actually the reason it is now safe for me to come into Khadra," said Ali, a taxi driver from Dora.
During a neighborhood advisory council meeting a month ago, representatives presented a plan to the chairman to produce memos for local bus drivers to come in and out of the city to carry children to and from schools in Khadra. Students from throughout Mansour district attend Khadra's 14 schools.
Although the barriers have hindered daily activities in the neighborhood, the people of Khadra continue to develop plans to help streamline and support the project.
"The process is getting easier," said Marian, a bus driver waiting in line at the checkpoint with a van full of children who apparently were late getting to the Khadra girls secondary school to take their semester exams. "Two months ago, we couldn't even find drivers willing to do this job."
"You can't be late if you're all late together," Gallagher assured the driver and her charges.
(Army Capt. Dan Cannon serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, operationally attached to the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team.)