American Forces Press Service
June 11, 2008 - Since May 22, more than 500 former insurgents in the Balad area have reconciled with the Iraqi government, choosing a different path for their lives. Operation Balad Musalahah is a combined effort between the qada-level government of Iraq -- a qada is roughly equivalent to a U.S. county -- and the leadership of the Iraqi police, 4th Iraqi Army Division, and the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team.
The ongoing effort has encouraged tribal leaders and local people with significant influence to promote unity within the once-beleaguered area, officials said.
The process seeks to reintegrate those who have felt marginalized back into the maturing governance process here, Army Lt. Col. Bob McCarthy, commander of 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, said.
"Former fighters in the Balad qada have stepped forward to reconcile with their fellow countrymen," McCarthy said. "This is a key step in reestablishing their ties to the communities, rejoining their families in their homes, and becoming active participants in Iraq's future."
Resolving to enter into a cease-fire agreement for the good of the qada and the province, former fighters have led Iraqi and coalition forces to various weapons caches scattered in the area.
Assorted rockets, artillery rounds, rocket-propelled-grenade launchers, mortar rounds, rifles and ammunition have been relinquished, making the streets of Balad that much safer for Iraqi citizens. The seized weapons typically are destroyed by explosive ordnance disposal teams.
Those who choose to reconcile must sign a cease-fire agreement, and if they face criminal charges, they must stand before the Iraqi court system before being fully reintegrated into civil society.
Out of the 506 who have reconciled, 160 Iraqis have had court dates set, with several having been found innocent of the charges they faced.
For many Iraqis, seeing that the justice system is fair and equitable is the biggest win, Army Maj. Timothy Brumfield, executive officer of 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment.
"The reconciliation process is a great start for those who have been reluctant to approach coalition and Iraqi security forces and have been increasingly isolated from Iraqi society," said Army Maj. Ramiro Salazar, operations officer for 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment. "Iraqi citizens will feel safer knowing that this process is working to improve their lives."
Army Maj. Johnpaul Arnold, spokesman for the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, said the reconciliation in Balad is significant.
"The mass reconciliation here marks a turning point for the Balad area, in terms of these men's realization that it is impossible to further their cause by means of violence," he said. "Instead, as we approach possible elections in the fall, they are choosing, as one reconciliation leader called, 'the war of the purple fingers' by embracing the power of the vote to advance their part in democracy.".
(From a Multinational Corps Iraq news release.)