By Sgt. James Hunter
2nd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office
101st Airborne DIvision (Air Assault)
BAGHDAD – Weeks have passed since northwest Baghdad rang from the sounds of small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks. The combined efforts of the Iraqi security forces and Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers quelled the violent outburst, and although many criminals were killed in fending off the attacks, some still roam the streets – living among innocent Iraqi civilians.
The outburst of violence is not something that has been forgotten in the minds of the Soldiers nor in the minds of the Iraqi citizens.
"These men are fools," explained an Iraqi man in referring to the attackers. The man lives in Salam, a neighborhood just south of the Kadhamiyah district in northwest Baghdad. "They are criminals – killers."
The man answered the door wearing just his pajamas April 18. You see, it was a day of rest for this Iraqi family. Although he has only lived in the neighborhood since May 2007, he said that, for the most part, he feels the area is very quiet and safe.
"We're not fighting al-Qaida," said Staff Sgt. Ramon Baca, the platoon sergeant for 1st Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment. "We are fighting these criminals and gangsters who go against the government of Iraq and attack coalition and Iraqi security forces."
He asked the man to be on the lookout for the criminals who, for all he knows, could be living in the calm area amongst the population and possibly using the area as a safe-haven – a place to re-fit or even to meet and plan future attacks.
"They are hiding among the innocent people," Baca said. "With your help and your tips, we can crush them forever."
MND-B Soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, patrol through northwest Baghdad daily to interact with the local populace in an attempt to gather needed information regarding the criminals operating in the area.
"The people are fed up with the criminals and with the insurgents," said Baca. "They want to stand up against them by either tipping them off or fighting against them."
It can be very difficult gaining information from the local residents because they fear the potential reprisals from the criminals; however, Baca said, they are fed up with them.
The MND-B Soldiers often receive tips from the local residents, either via phone or one-on-one conversations, about the criminals' whereabouts or potential future plans of attacks against the ISF and CF, said Baca.
"We get general tips – masked men gathering with weapons, (criminals) gathering for a meeting or tips on individuals transporting weapons through the (operational environment)," Baca said.
It's a determined effort on the part of the ISF and MND-B troops because in order to continue the rebuilding of the local economy, infrastructure and ISF, the criminal element must be dealt with.
Perhaps the odd thing however, is that the Cobra Soldiers don't necessarily mention the criminals to the citizens they speak with. They have a round-about way of doing it – a simple, yet effective way.
"We don't talk to them about those targets but what is going on within the community," Baca said. "We talk to them about what we are trying to do and what we are trying to help them with."
It's all about building rapport and trust with these residents, which, in the past, they may not have seen from their own government. The residents seem to have a circle of trust within their communities – people they can go to when they need help or those they can count on when they face daunting challenges.
The MND-B Soldiers are earning that trust but make sure not to promise anything they can't deliver. With the ISF, what they can deliver is security. It is a vital mission they have been performing for some time.
"Because of the constant patrolling and keeping these bad guys quiet, every day, we get thanks for that. We are keeping criminals on their toes so they don't have that opportunity to attack," Baca said. "The Iraqis do appreciate us – and they do trust us."
With the trust, and the ability to provide constant security, the tips will flood in because the local residents are tired of the criminal activity in the area. As Iraq continue to grow, so does the ISF. However, it is the help of the citizens of the proud land that is vitally needed, said Baca.
This work, Cobra Soldiers look for tips leading to criminal suspects, by SSG James Hunter, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.