By Kristen Noel
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 9, 2008 - Nearing the end of a 15-month deployment in Iraq's Madain Qada region, the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team has accomplished its purpose of contributing to violence reduction in Baghdad and stabilizing communities throughout the region, the brigade's commander said yesterday. "I think if you look back on the past 15 months, you can see that we most definitely accomplished our purpose of contributing to a reduction of violence in Baghdad and stabilizing the communities in the Madain Qada," Army Col. Wayne Grigsby, commander of 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, told online journalists and "bloggers" in a teleconference.
Grigsby said violent crime was "out of control" when the brigade deployed to Madain Qada in March 2007 as part of the troop surge. They were being attacked four to five times a day on average, and criminal elements were extorting Iraqi shop owners, he said.
The brigade was able to secure the region's communities and interdict extremists' movement into Baghdad by conducting aggressive, intelligence-driven offensive operations, Grigsby said.
"We never forgot what a U.S. Army heavy brigade combat team was made to do: close with and destroy the enemy," he said.
The brigade killed 160 enemy extremists, detained more than 500 suspected criminals and cleared every enemy sanctuary in the region during the 15-month deployment, Grigsby said. He added that 47 of the detained suspects were considered "high-value" individuals.
As a result, Grigsby said, extremist activity is greatly reduced in the Madain Qada region.
"Where al-Qaida and other Sunni extremist groups had had their run in the southern portion of our battle space, now we estimate there are [only] about three Sunni extremist groups of no more than 10 extremists per group in our battle space," he explained.
"We killed or captured their leaders, denied them use of the safe houses and support zones," Grigsby said, "and with our 'Sons of Iraq' allies, we are sitting on their former resupply lines and holding that terrain."
The Sons of Iraq are groups of citizens who contribute to security efforts in their neighborhoods.
The murder rate in Madain Qada declined by more than 50 percent, Grigsby said, from 631 murders in 2006 to 253 in 2007. And there are now days with no enemy attacks, he added.
Conditions also are greatly improved for the region's population. In addition to taking extremists and criminals off the streets, Grigsby said, the brigade also made strides building the trust of the people in Madain Qada and helping them revitalize their communities.
"We built these relationships of trust by treating local residents with dignity and respect and giving them their community back," he said.
All of the major population centers in the region now have revitalized markets, health care facilities, water distribution systems and schools, Grigsby said.
He said 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team was involved in many efforts to revitalize markets, build schools and improve water-distribution facilities. In Salman Pak, a city 15 miles south of Baghdad, the brigade facilitated the revitalization of the market and the refurbishment of a hospital, he said. And a single battalion -- 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry -- oversaw the refurbishment of more than 13 schools, he said.
Grigsby added that the brigade also facilitated the construction of a new soccer stadium in the city of Wahida.
"[The soccer stadium] is a luxury," he said, "but a luxury that we could assist in bringing to the community that has now lived through a relatively peaceful and normal year and is beginning to want more than the most basic elements in the hierarchy of needs."
Grigsby said the Iraqi government is aware of the progress in Madain Qada and has acknowledged it by committing millions of dollars for projects and improvement in the region in 2008.
"The leaders of Iraq are telling you things are better in the Madain Qada," he said.
"In our time in the Madain, we have seen a significant reduction of violence. We have seen the economy spring back to life. We have seen the local government structure continue to mature and progress," Grigsby said.
"We most definitely have momentum, and we have made gains," he added.
The responsibility to continue the momentum will be absorbed by the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which is replacing 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in the Madain Qada region of Iraq.
Grigsby said the "combat-tested" 2nd Brigade already is being integrated in programs and initiatives in the region.
He also said he's working with the new brigade's commander, Army Col. Pat White, on programs to improve the quality of life in Iraq's Diyala province. The programs intend to provide a power substation, a water-distribution facility, a youth center, four schools, multiple poultry farms, and more infrastructure, he said.
"It is through this capacity-building effort that we can continue to pressure the enemy and leave him isolated outside the community that he used to use for protection and camouflage," Grigsby said. "But, with another great combat brigade coming into Madain Qada, I am very optimistic that Colonel Pat White and his team will continue to build on our progress over the coming months."
(Kristen Noel works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)