Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 3, 2008 - It was a grand opening without any grandeur. No ribbons were cut, and no speeches were given. But an Iraqi Assistance Center opened Sept. 1 in Baghdad's Sadr City district nonetheless. The center, housed in a trailer near the Sadr City District Advisory Council building, is where Iraqi citizens go to file damage and condolence claims for losses suffered due to combat between coalition forces and enemy elements in this northeastern Baghdad district.
The second client for the IAC at its new location was a father seeking help for his son. The father was going over documents with "Alan." Alan was showing the documents to "Sara," when Army Staff Sgt. Brendan Piper stopped in to check on the newly opened IAC.
For the past four months, Piper, a native of Milwaukee, has processed these claims at the IAC established at Joint Security Station Sadr City. He and his team of Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers trained the Iraqi IAC team that took over operations in the new complex. Upon seeing him, Sara quickly asked for Piper's advice.
"It's your decision now. What do you want to do?" asked Piper, who serves as the Iraqi Assistance Center noncommissioned officer in charge with 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, which is attached to the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
"The people, when they went to the Americans, felt kind of afraid, intimidated. When they go to Iraqis, Iraqi to Iraqi, they are not afraid, because they are from his culture," said Muhanned Abdul Ridha, a lawyer who manages the IAC.
Muhanned said he believes the new location will help more residents of Sadr City feel more willing to make a claim.
When an Iraqi decides to make a claim, he is first interviewed by the IAC staff. The claimant must describe the details of the incident in question, the damage that occurred and bring any photos he may have as evidence of the damage. The team collects this and other related information, processes the paperwork and passes it on to Muhanned.
Coalition forces still are involved in the process. Every two to three days, the IAC will send recent claims to Joint Security Station Sadr City to be checked against coalition forces reports.
"We're still reviewing the claims," Piper said. "It's our American tax dollars, so we have the final say as to who gets approved."
The IAC at Joint Security Station Sadr City started taking claims April 24 and finished taking claims Aug. 31. In those 129 days, the IAC processed more than 1,500 claims worth about $1.1 million for the residents of Sadr City.
For its first day, the new IAC filed no claims, but had 10 residents, including the father, walk in seeking information. Eventually, the Iraqi government will replace the U.S. government as the source of the funding for paying claims, Piper said.
(Army Sgt. Jerry Saslav serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)