By Staff Sgt. Michael Paredes, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 5, 2008 - About 1,000 residents returned to a town southwest of Baghdad last week after learning coalition and Iraqi forces had secured the area. When heavy fighting broke out in the Zambraniyah area in early January, coalition forces advised families to evacuate the area to stay out of danger.
As residents fled, blending in became difficult for al Qaeda in Iraq members, enabling soldiers to identify and target them more easily. Over the course of combat operations, more than 40 extremists were killed.
The 3rd Infantry Division's 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, currently attached to the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, is now helping displaced families return to their homes.
Al Qaeda in Iraq infiltrated Zambraniyah last year. Local citizens said those who refused to support the terrorists were killed. Now, citizens are standing up to protect their community, and coalition forces also have helped organize a "Sons of Iraq" group to aid with local security through a program formerly known as concerned local citizens.
More than 500 Sons of Iraq in the Zambraniyah area have been recruited and organized into a force that works closely with the Iraqi army and coalition forces. More than 100 improvised explosive devices have been disposed of with their help, officials said.
As the civilian population returns to this agricultural community, the hope is that economic activity will increase. U.S. Army civil affairs teams working with the 6-8th Cavalry Regiment are helping with economic assessments of the Zambraniyah community and plan to offer micro-grants to small businesses.
(Army Staff Sgt. Michael Paredes serves in the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office. He's assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division's 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team.)