By Army Sgt. Zach Mott
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 30, 2008 - Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers are helping Iraqi civilians in the northeastern part of the Iraqi capital who have lost family members or suffered injuries or property losses in clashes between coalition forces and enemy fighters. The newly opened Iraqi Assistance Center on Joint Security Station Sadr City provides local residents with an opportunity to file claims due to the losses they suffer when militants use law-abiding citizens as a cover for their activities, officials said.
Members of 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion and soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team established the claims center, along with a nearby civil-military operations center, to better assist the residents of this impoverished district in northeastern Baghdad, Army Sgt. Brendan Piper, a civil affairs specialist from Milwaukee, said. Piper is spearheading the claims process.
Hickmat Fadel, an Iraqi civilian who came to the center to file a claim, said he was forced from his home when fighting broke out, and that he recently returned to find his vehicle damaged.
"I feel that [security has] become much better," he said. "I couldn't come home for a few weeks; now we can return home." Fadel works as a dentist in northeastern Baghdad and brought his 3-year-old daughter, Nuna, with him to file his claim.
Once he has verified the claimant's identity and ensured the claim includes proper documentation, Piper said, he sends it forward for review by coalition officials to ensure the incident involved coalition forces. Once the claim is deemed accurate, it is then forwarded to the legal officer, who reviews the file and makes a determination on whether a claim should be paid, Piper explained.
In the center's first two days of operation this week, more than 50 people came in to either file a claim or find out more about the process, Piper said. Four claims have been paid so far to assist those residents, he added.
The claim center's secondary function is to help citizens find family members who are detained, Piper said. He has access to a database that lists each person who is detained and where they are being held. The list is updated daily.
"They've got to prove that it is a family member, then we can show them where their loved one is being detained," Piper said.
As more ground is made safe in the southern portion of the Sadr City district of Baghdad, Piper said, the claims center will move and continue to be close to the people.
(Army Sgt. Zach Mott serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)