Coalition, Iraqi Forces Work to Halt Cycle of Violence in Baghdad
Second Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, part of Multinational Division Baghdad, took over responsibility for the area in November and immediately set out to defeat al Qaeda and Shiia extremists by denying them access to the population, Army Col. J.B. Burton, the brigade’s commander, said.
The effort got a huge shot in the arm in January when troops from the surge of additional forces began flowing into Iraq. The brigade fields five maneuver task forces, three of which came from surge forces. These units “gave us increased combat power and capabilities to do missions,” Burton said.
The brigade also fields an embedded provincial reconstruction team that helps with reconstruction and reconciliation efforts. “They provide us the savvy necessary to understand and integrate resources from various joint and interagency actors to assist us in achieving our objectives,” the colonel said.
Ten Iraqi army battalions and two national police battalions partnered with the brigade.
The area is heavily urbanized, covering 93 square kilometers and containing more than 1 million people. The northern and eastern parts of the area are primarily Shiia, while south and west are primarily Sunni. Some neighborhoods are mixed, and those are primarily in the eastern part of the region.
To stop the cycle of violence, the coalition and Iraqi forces had to get out into the neighborhoods, Burton said. “We had to get out into the city, live among the citizens, fight alongside the Iraqis and deny insurgents, criminals and extremists free access to the population,” he said. “The Baghdad security plan, along with the troop surge, allowed us to do just that, thus increasing our ability to affect the communities and combine our efforts with those of our Iraqi partners.”
Fourteen joint security stations are in the region. The move allowed the forces to create safe neighborhoods with controlled entry and exit points manned 24 hours a day by Iraqi security forces. The joint security stations are “providing our soldiers, the Iraqi security forces and local citizens continuous access to each other so that we can collectively solve the problems of the communities from a common perspective.”
And the strategy is working. There has been an 85 percent reduction in violence in the region since May, Burton said. “Of our 95 mahalas, or neighborhoods, 58 of them are now considered under control,” he said. “Thirty-three remain in a clearing status, with violence continuing to go down, and four remain in a ‘disrupt’ status.”
Murders are down from a peak of more than 160 reported murders per week a year ago to less than five per week today. Improvised-explosive-device and small-arms attacks are down from a peak of 50 per week in June to less than five per week since the end of August, Burton said. Car-bomb attacks are down nearly 85 percent due to efforts aimed at the Karkh networks. These had a “tremendous impact on insurgents' ability to instruct and employ those types of weapons effectively,” the colonel said.
Businesses are opening, people are moving back into the area, and local citizens are working to point out extremists and criminals, Burton said.
Local citizens also are volunteering to serve in the security forces. “To date, we have a total of 1,772 volunteers and recruits who are fully screened and ready to attend academy for integration into the Iraqi security forces, with 500 scheduled to attend academy this month,” Burton said. “We have begun to see an increasing number of former Iraqi army officers coming forward to rejoin the security forces of their nation, and we are working closely with our Iraqi security forces partners on this issue.”
Still, problems remain, he said. Delivery of essential services is spotty. Fuel and electricity are the biggest problems across the area. In some neighborhoods, the Iraqi government has not instituted reconstruction projects.
Burton said he believes the Iraqi security forces will be able to capitalize on the gains made in the past few months. “The Iraqi security forces in all of our areas are working in partnership fully with us,” he said. “In some areas, I've been able to reduce the number of coalition forces and their responsibilities there so I can go out and move my forces into other areas to create increased effects, and we're developing plans to do that right now.
“The Iraqi security forces … are planning, and they are employing forces across their zone in partnership with us,” he continued. “And there are some areas of our area of responsibility where I put limited coalition forces in on a daily basis because the Iraqis have gained control of this.”