By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
April 3, 2008 - Iraqi security forces, aided by coalition forces and local citizens, neutralized threats from an Iranian-backed "special group" in a Baghdad-area neighborhood last week, a U.S. Army brigade commander in the area said today. As Iraqi security and coalition forces clashed with Shiite special groups in Basra and elsewhere in Iraq, violence in the Multinational Division Center area of operations was very limited.
"There was a little bit of reaction, but because of the strength of the (combined force), nothing major happened," Col. Wayne Grigsby of Multinational Division Center said during a conference call.
The division's area near the Iraqi capital has a population of 1.2 million people, 70 percent of whom are Shiite. Grigsby said the majority of the area's Shiites continue to comply with a ceasefire pledge by Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric with a large, armed following. Sadr, who vowed in August to suspend offensive operations against coalition forces and citizens, recently extended that pledge.
The 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team under Grigsby's command continues to track one special group, he said.
"We think their boundary runs over top of the river to the west into Baghdad, so we have one Shiite extremist special group that we think is not abiding by the Moqtada al-Sadr ceasefire, and they're continuing to try to threaten the good people of the (Diyala-region) town," Grigsby said.
Previously, Grigsby said, Multinational Division Center officials believed two such Shiite extremist groups were operating in the division's purview. Now, however, one of the groups, which had operated in the northern reaches of the area of operation, has been defeated, the colonel said.
The unit is achieving success against special groups and other criminals because of the nature of its operations, Grigsby said.
"We don't do these huge, raking operations where you go out into the neighborhoods and pick 40 to 50 people, because that would (anger) anybody," he said. Instead, units perform small-scale, intelligence-driven operations aimed at killing or capturing individual targets.
"When we go in and do that, the people of the neighborhood are thanking us," he said, noting that many of the citizens themselves help with security as members of "Sons of Iraq."
"The Sons of Iraq are helping us do it, the national police are helping us do it, because they know when we take those individuals out, in a couple weeks they will see progress in their neighborhood."
Grigsby said the Sons of Iraq have been a key to overall success.
"These brave Iraqis have stood between their families and violent extremists and truly thickened the lines of security," he said. "This program has provided us trusted allies better intelligence and also pumped money into the economy – local money into the local neighborhoods, and it's given us a boost."
In addition to added security, Grigsby said marks of progress include economic stimulation, improved water and electrical systems and other public works projects.
"(Iraqis) will see things starting in the positive once we take care of those one or two individuals," he said. "That has been my experience the entire time I've been here."