By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
June 26, 2008 - Iraqi soldiers and police, assisted by U.S. and coalition troops, are making good progress in pacifying the city of Amarah and surrounding areas in Iraq's Maysan province, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Iraq said today. The Iraqi-military planned and led operation is part of Baghdad's efforts to help citizens "regain control of their towns, cities and villages" from illegal militias or other extremists, Army Col. Charles Flynn, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, told reporters during a satellite-carried news conference at the Pentagon.
"We stand in full support of the Iraqi forces and the government of Iraq," Flynn said, "and we also understand that secure and stable environments afford the economy of Iraq to grow, bringing with it jobs and opportunities for people to prosper."
Flynn and his unit arrived in Iraq in July. Since then, the U.S. paratroopers have assisted Iraqi forces operating in the southern part of the country. Amarah is the capital of Maysan province in southeastern Iraq.
Since June 19, the 1st BCT's paratroopers have supported Iraqi soldiers and police conducting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's crackdown on illegal militias operating in Amarah and its environs.
Operation Bashaer as-Salaam is an Iraqi-led, planned and executed security operation conducted in Amarah to enforce the rule of law, reduce criminal safe havens and disrupt weapons-smuggling operations.
Amarah's citizens have cheerfully welcomed the Iraqi troops, Flynn said. City residents have pointed out members of criminal groups to Iraqi and coalition forces, he noted, and also have identified or turned in large numbers of weapons caches. Maysan province borders on Iran, and coalition officials often have expressed concern that weapons destined for insurgents' use are being smuggled into Iraq from Iran.
Iraqi and coalition security forces have collected 3,000 mortar rounds, 300 rockets, 800 artillery rounds, nearly 300 improvised explosive devices and 27 armor-piercing explosively formed projectiles during the Amarah operation, Flynn said.
"We're happy that people came forward and turned those [weapons] over to us," the colonel said. "We're going to do what we can to make sure that we reward the people that are providing the information related to cache finds."
Flynn also noted what he called the "positive trend" of Iraqi police and soldiers working in unison.
Improved security has seen a corresponding increase in reconstruction activity in and around Amarah, Flynn noted, as illegal militia members flee the area. A mix of U.S. and Iraqi-government provided funds, he said, are fueling myriad water, medical, electricity, transportation and other needed infrastructure projects.
Members of Flynn's unit partner with provincial reconstruction teams and local chambers of commerce to help Iraqis "better spend their money on infrastructure-type items," he explained.
After more than a year in Iraq, Flynn and his soldiers are nearing the time to redeploy back to their home base at Fort Bragg, N.C.
"The paratroopers over here in 1st Brigade have been doing a great job for 13 months," Flynn said. "I really want to extend my appreciation to the spouses and families back at Fort Bragg, and really across the country, for their support that they've rendered to us while we've been away.
"We should be home fairly soon, and we look forward to a peaceful and joyous reunion with our families," he added.
Flynn offered his condolences to the spouses, families and other loved ones of fallen or severely wounded troopers.
"You're in our thoughts; you're in our prayers. My heart goes out to all of you," he said.