By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
March 24, 2008 - Working together, coalition and Iraqi personnel are bringing peace to the war-torn streets of Baghdad, a senior commander in the Iraqi capital said today. Coalition and Iraqi officials are looking for ways to prove that the "insurgency is really dying on the vine," said Army Col. Dominic Caraccilo, commander of the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
Last year, there were more than 100 attacks per week on the coalition in the area. Today, that's down to 12 and trending lower, Caraccilo said.
The brigade and its Iraqi allies will be part of Operation Marne Pile Driver, which will be launched throughout the Multinational Division Center area of operations next week, Caraccilo said. The operation is designed to rid the brigade's zone of the remaining insurgent leaders, their cells and their support structure.
"It will be a 100 percent Iraqi-led operation," the colonel said.
The operation allows for coalition and Iraqi government resources to build capacity along economic and government lines of operations. The operation will take advantage of security improvements in the region -- once known as the Triangle of Death -- to put in place facilities and services to benefit all Iraqis in the southern Baghdad belts.
In the brigade's area -- also called Rakkassan area of operations -- the operation will build a joint security station at Yusefiyah and set up Iraqi-run radio stations. The Iraqi government is providing money to refurbish two water treatment plants and money to continue progress on reestablishing farming and processing -- especially for poultry farms, which the area was once noted for.
"We need to improve the quality of life for individuals," Caraccilo said. "We believe it will have an irreversible impact on the stability in this region and pave the way for elections this fall."
A year ago, the southern belts area "was arguably the poorest and most dangerous area in Iraq," the colonel said. The coalition unit there before, the 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, took heavy casualties in tamping down violence in the area. The region is 75 percent Sunni and 25 percent Shiite, and al Qaeda had many "rat lines" that brought in money, terrorists and finances from outside.
The previous unit suffered 60 soldiers killed and more than 300 wounded during its time in the area. "They did an incredible job in setting the conditions for what is now a stable environment," Caraccilo said.
The stability has allowed the "Rakkassans" to help train 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, and to work with Iraqi police, the brigade's embedded provincial reconstruction team, citizens helping with security through the Sons of Iraq program and the local tribal sheikh council in ways that were not possible before.
The 101st paratroopers have 12 patrol bases in the 1,000-square-kilometer region and seven combined battle positions.
"My Iraqi counterpart has soldiers at all our patrol bases and has 84 battle positions and checkpoints," Caraccilo said. "We have under our purview 700 Sons of Iraq checkpoints, which help thicken our lines and to ensure the population is protected from the insurgency."
More than 2,000 Iraqi police are operating in the eastern and southern part of the area.
The stability allowed the allies to renovate 10 schools, 11 health clinics, four government buildings and eight water treatment plants. It also has helped set up democratically elected town councils and agricultural co-ops that reflect the concerns of the people, Caraccilo said.
"We have great hopes, but realistic expectations for the next few months," the colonel said. "Stability in the region is trending up. We see the Iraqi army exponentially taking responsibility and making efforts to sustain itself. We see the forward progress of economic opportunity."