News: New signs of peace continue in Amarah
Story by Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Multi-National Division-Center Public Affairs Office
BAGHDAD – During a visit to the area July 19, Brig. Gen. Jeffery Buchanan, deputy commanding general for operations for Multi-National Division – Center, met with Brig. Gen. Jabbar Nama, deputy commander for the 10th Iraqi army division, to discuss operations and the future well-being of Maysan province.
In the four weeks since Operation First Signs of Peace began in Maysan province, the Iraqi security forces are successfully maintaining just that - peace.
During their month-long presence in al Amarah, battalions from the 10th IA Div. have not seen a single gunfight, not one improvised explosive device attack, nor received any indirect fire. They continue searching for caches and criminals in the area with support from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
"The most important thing out here is to cut off or interdict the flow of munitions that flow in from Iran up to Baghdad. And for one thing, with the ISF we can do that pretty well," said Lt. Col. Edward Bohnemann, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 4th BCT.
Buchanan wants to help the 10th IA Div. by improving senior leadership who can mentor, teach and support their fighting forces. He also discussed bringing Military Transition Teams down to Camp Sparrowhawk to train with Jabbar's men.
Operations in al Amarah began June 19. In a matter of days, IA and Iraqi police detained approximately 200 criminals and collected more than 220 weapon caches. ISF found the caches in homes, businesses and public areas throughout the city of Amarah, containing 2,262 mortar rounds, 1,034 mines, 971 artillery rounds, 749 rocket-propelled grenades, 598 rockets, 259 missile launchers, 176 improvised explosive devices, 259 grenades, 43 DSHKA barrels, 141 explosively formed penetrators and 22 missiles.
All of this without a single shot fired.
The government of Iraq offered Shiite extremists and local citizens an amnesty period prior to the operation. Citizens who turned over weapon caches to ISF would not be arrested. The Iraqi government also gave extremist forces the option to turn themselves in peacefully. Military leaders visited with tribal sheiks of the area and encouraged them to enforce tribal laws that would maintain peace.
Throughout the operation, ISF took the initiative in planning and executing the mission. Now, six battalions under the 10th IA Div. maintain stability in Maysan by manning checkpoints, performing ground reconnaissance and conducting other security measures.
"They got a great understanding of the area," said Bohnemann, a native of Andover, N.J. "It's been a great improvement seeing them get out there and execute the missions."
The lack of violence is especially impressive considering recent history of insurgent activity in Amarah.
Many insurgents throughout Iraq retreated to safe havens in the Amarah area in 1991, following the Persian Gulf War. Throughout the '90s, the town's population swelled with refugees. Saddam Hussein occasionally neglected services to the city as retribution for uprisings against him. The neglect further fed criminal activity and turned the city into a safe haven for Shiite extremists.
Only 50 kilometers from the Iranian border, Amarah served as a thoroughfare for smuggling munitions. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, British forces occupied the city and set up two camps. However, in June 2003, citizens of Amarah took up arms against patrolling British forces. Violence continued in the area, and before the June 19 operation, Amarah had been without any coalition occupation for about a year.
The area has seen a transformation since ISF took charge.
"The people wave at us. The people acknowledge us," said 1st Sgt. John Urrutia, first sergeant of Company B, 2nd Bn., 7th Cav. Regt. and a native of Carson City, Kan.
The intent now is for coalition forces to help professionalize the ISF and improve their capabilities so that they can maintain peace in the days to come.
"We have a pretty good handle on what's realistic as far as goals, and we want to build on that the right way," Buchanan said.
Soldiers from the 4th BCT have conducted patrols with the ISF, and continue to teach them warrior fighting skills. The coalition's main effort in Maysan has been to support the IA with training and any technology they might not have, such as aerial reconnaissance.
"Every day we sit down with them at the battalion and brigade level and plan operations. They're in the lead on that. And it's usually their intelligence that's driving these operations," Bohnemann said.
Efforts to extend the capabilities of the GoI to help its people are also underway. Establishing security and clearing a city from hundreds of munitions is a start.
Company B has also begun stimulating the local economy by setting up an ice contract and purchasing equipment from the region's businesses. The company funded $3,000 worth of purchases that will help improve their combat outpost. Also, the Iraqi forces are buying food straight from the local markets and spending time with the citizens to show they're here to protect them.