By Army Sgt. Zach Mott
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 10, 2008 - Schools are now in session in the Sadr City district here, an area that six months ago was the scene of some of the war's fiercest fighting. The rooms that children now fill at this school in northeastern Baghdad once were home to militia fighters who launched attacks against the Iraqi government and Iraqi and coalition forces.
"I think education is the greatest weapon in the people's hands," said Buad Abdul Sadr, the senior engineer in charge of refurbishing the Jawalala School in Sadr City. After two months of work by Buad and his crew, the school and its 12 classrooms are filled with students decked out in new uniforms provided by the Modern Sewing Company in the neighboring Adhamiyah district.
"Now we are able to send our children to school to get educated," said Ali Sewadi, a member of the Sadr City District Advisory Council. "Before, we were not able to send them to the schools, and now we can."
Sewadi, other council members and Iraqi soldiers helped to hand out backpacks and uniforms to the children yesterday. The uniforms are something the students are proud to wear.
"I think, the children, when you give them something, they are very happy," said Raya Suhad Alani, the women's committee chairman for the district council, who helped to organize the uniform delivery for the students.
Once fighting in Sadr City diminished in May, one of the first steps was to identify the schools in the area and their condition. The Jawalala School was one of the first visited by the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion, attached in Multinational Baghdad to the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
Army Sgt. Vincent Ruiz, a Toms River, N.J., native, was one of the first soldiers into the area to assess the schools. He said it wasn't uncommon to be running between buildings, evading gunfire during an assessment. Now, he said, the situation is almost 180 degrees different.
"The goal is for the children to have a brighter future than their fathers and mothers might have," Ruiz said. This school is a step in that direction, he added.
"When the people of Sadr City look at the schools and look at their kids in these schools, I think they will do the same thing. They will think again before they carry any kind of weapon," Buad said.
(Army Sgt. Zach Mott serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)