The Iraqi people are standing up and taking back their homes, their cities, their lives! 1st Cavalry News
Iraqi, U.S. forces in Adhamiyah try to build on momentum of residents’ stand against terrorism
By Sgt. Mike Pryor
2nd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. Public Affairs
BAGHDAD – Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers operating in the Adhamiyah District of the Iraqi capital used to wager bets on what kind of attack they would come under when patrolling near the Abu Hanifa Mosque.
“We’d be like, I wonder what we’ll get hit with today?” said Maj. Jim Schaffer of Cleveland, Ohio, a civil affairs team leader who has been based in Adhamiyah since February.
Small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs struck patrols traveling near the mosque on such a regular basis that Schaffer and the other Soldiers were convinced insurgents had made the Abu Hanifa their base.
But when the mosque was finally raided and the terrorists thrown out, it wasn’t Coalition Forces or Iraqi Soldiers who did it. It was the residents of Adhamiyah.
On Aug. 5, a group of citizens, fed-up with terrorist activity in their community, stormed the Abu Hanifa Mosque and expelled the insurgents, beginning a chain of events that led coalition forces to detain more than 50 suspected terrorists and seize five large weapons caches over the next two days.
The surprising turn of events was welcome news for coalition forces in the area.
“I think (the people) were just saying, enough is enough,” said Fort Knox, Ky., native Lt. Col. Jeff Broadwater, commander of the Fort Stewart, Ga.-based 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment “Sabers,” the U.S. unit responsible for security in Adhamiyah.
“I think it was a tipping point,” Broadwater said.
The challenge for Coalition Forces now is to capitalize on the situation, and not let the momentum created by the uprising go to waste, Broadwater said.
One way the Sabers are exploiting the situation is by stepping up combat operations against insurgents. As more tips and information have started to come in following the uprising, U.S. and Iraqi forces have responded by conducting nightly targeted raids. But another, equally important component in the strategy to drive a wedge between the people of Adhamiyah and the terrorists is the large number of reconstruction projects the squadron is mounting.
“Now is a critical point,” said Maj. Ike Sallee, the squadron’s operations officer. “The most important thing for us now is that we build more than we destroy. All of our offensive operations have to be balanced by (humanitarian efforts).”
The Sabers took over responsibility for Adhamiyah just last month. Yet the unit has already approved almost $500,000 in development projects. Some of those currently underway include micro-loans for economic revitalization, sewage and trash removal, the employment of a local security force for a hospital, and numerous school rehabilitation projects, said 1st Lt. Chadwick Knight, the squadron’s targeting officer.
“The non-kinetic operations we have here are extremely important to our mission,” Knight said.
But the Soldiers also realize their resources are limited.
“We’re doing what we can, but we can’t do it ourselves,” Broadwater said. “The government of Iraq has to come in.”
To that end, the Sabers have been focusing on strengthening their relationships with local leaders and government officials, such as members of the Neighborhood and District Advisory Councils.
For the Sabers, local government issues are as crucial to mission success as military operations, and are treated with equal importance. On one recent afternoon, sniper fire in the Antar Square area made it unsafe for some of the staff at the DAC to walk home from their office. Soldiers from Troop C came to their rescue, providing a dismounted escort and leading the frightened group of men, women, and children through the square safely.
“Actions speak louder than words, and doing this stuff shows the people ‘we care more about you than you think we do,’” Sallee said.
In the past, Coalition Forces have struggled to get that message out, and there is still a lot of distrust among the people of Adhamiyah towards the U.S. and Iraqi Soldiers. It’s something that Sabers know won’t change overnight, Sallee said.
“It takes a long time to change people’s perceptions,” he said.
But the Sabers hope the mosque uprising may be an indication that opinion in the community has begun to shift in their favor.
To find out, St. Louis native Sgt. Aaron Johnson, a tactical psychological operations team sergeant was out on the streets in the days after the Mosque uprising to gauge the mood of the people. At the market across from the Abu Hanifa, he struck up a conversation with a group of men sitting outside a coffee house.
Reaction to the uprising at the mosque was mixed. Some of the men said the weapons that had been discovered in the mosque had been planted there by Iraqi Soldiers. Others were happy that the mosque had been liberated from terrorists, but wanted to talk about other problems like the lack of electricity.
But other residents seemed emboldened by the news. Hajji Kasem, a local businessman, said he was glad the terrorists were out of the mosque, and he had plans to organize a neighborhood watch to keep them out. He said he was happy to work with Coalition Forces, even though some of his friends would question the relationship.
“They say, why do you work with these guys? But I just want Adhamiyah to get better,” Kasem said. “All I care about is helping my people.”
St. Louis native Sgt. Aaron Johnson, a psychological operations sergeant attached to the Fort Stewart, Ga.-based 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, talks to Adhamiyah residents in a shop across from the Abu Hanifa Mosque Aug. 8. Johnson was trying to get a sense of the mood of the community after residents rose up and ousted terrorists from the mosque Aug. 5. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mike Pryor, 2nd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs)
St. Louis native Sgt. Aaron Johnson, a psychological operations sergeant attached to the Fort Stewart, Ga.-based 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, talks to a local Adhamiyah man across from the street from the Abu Hanifa Mosque Aug. 8. Johnson was trying to get a sense of the mood of the community after residents rose up and ousted terrorists from the mosque Aug. 5. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mike Pryor, 2nd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs)
Lamirada, Calif., native Pfc. Josh Nelson (right), of the Fort Stewart, Ga.-based 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, shares a laugh with a local man while out on patrol near the Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah District Aug. 8. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mike Pryor, 2nd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs)