Friday, December 14, 2007

1st Cavalry Passing Baghdad Mission to 4ID

By Master Sgt. Dave Larsen

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq (Army News Service, Dec. 7, 2007) - After 399 days as Multi-National Division-Baghdad, the 1st Cavalry Division will turn its mission over to the Fort Hood, Texas-based 4th Infantry Division Dec. 19.

"First Team" leaders were hard-pressed to pick one event as the crowning achievement of the deployment, but agreed that Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon ("enforcing the law") in mid-February, and the surge of security forces into Baghdad neighborhoods, improved the security situation in the Iraqi capital.

"We had the advantage of the surge, having two-and-a-half brigades added to our force structure here," said Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commanding general of MND-B and the 1st Cav. Div. "That has really made a difference. It's allowed us to get out into all parts of the city, to touch places where we really were unable to get to before, and to influence not only the security situation there but also the Iraqi Security Forces."

"Nine Iraqi Army battalions have surged into Baghdad," added Brig. Gen. John F. Campbell, the deputy commanding general for maneuver of MND-B and the 1st Cav. Div. "That's helped quite a bit."

Additional troops, both coalition and Iraqi, meant more interaction with Baghdad neighborhoods and area residents, building trust and alleviating the grip of fear terrorists held on the populace.

"They were intimidated by the people who were living among them," Brig. Gen. Campbell said. "To win this counterinsurgency fight, you've got to have the population on your side and the only way to do that is to live with them. They get more comfortable with Iraqi Security Forces, more comfortable with coalition forces. They know we are going to be there when they need us."

Brig. Gen. Campbell added that volunteers for the concerned local-citizen program have also been very helpful. The movement spread from the west to Baghdad and filled every security district, he said.

"The volunteers are coming out in droves," Brig. Gen. Campbell said. "They're tired of the violence and they want to take control of their own destiny."

Recruiting drives have been held throughout the city, and candidates undergo mental and physical screenings to determine if they can eventually join the Iraqi police. The drives have been so successful that Brig. Gen. Campbell said volunteers outnumber police-training slots.

To secure Baghdad, he said, the Iraqi police must maintain the peace in each neighborhood; he added that while they're not there yet, the security situation is the best he has seen in 17 months.

While improved security improves living conditions and allows businesses to flourish, Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the deputy commanding general for support with MND-B and the 1st Cav. Div., said the reverse can also be true: improved living conditions and the support of area residents also increases security.

"What is more important is to be able to use things like the delivery of services to change to environment for the people," said Brig. Gen. Brooks. "And as they begin to realize that someone is doing work on their behalf, it changes the environment and makes it less hospitable for terrorists to be able to hide among them.

"The population, having been protected, recognized that their great problem in the past and for the future would be the continued presence of extremists of any ilk. They've tasted what happens when those elements are pushed aside and that life can go on."

One of the First Team's biggest successes is the revitalization of the Doura Market. In January, only a handful of shops were open for business, but hundreds of vendors now ply their wares in one of Baghdad's busiest business districts.

"I have seen a tremendous change in security there," said Col. Bryan Roberts, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team. "It's a great feeling. We came here to make a difference. Everything is thriving. There are physical, visual signs of progress. Everywhere you go things are open and people are working."

"If you haven't addressed the things that are iconic, things that are recognizable to the population, then even when you have achieved security, there's not a perception of security and the environment doesn't change," Brig. Gen. Brooks said.

He pointed to Al Haifa Street in central Baghdad, where extremists have been pushed out and programs are in place to improve the area, bring in businesses and have residents return to what was a daily battle zone in early 2007.

Another Baghdad icon is the Abu Nuwas Market on the Tigris River. Even before the Saddam Hussein-era, it was a thriving cultural, business and tourist area. It held a grand re-opening Nov. 24, and Iraqis filled the streets to celebrate its rebirth.

"Probably the most significant difference is the city is seeing much reduced violence, significantly improved conditions, not only for security but for the enabling of governance and setting the conditions for the economy to get started, as well," Maj. Gen. Fil said. "There's a sense of hope here now among the people that is paying off."

(Master Sgt. Dave Larsen serves with the1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs Office.)