Welcome to another round-up of good news in Iraq. Two positive trends have remained strong. First, Iraqi forces continue to takeover more battlespace from the U.S., and they continue to show that they are capable of securing their own country. Second, Iraqi citizens continue to provide tips against terrorists and insurgents. Also noteworthy is that the number of attacks is decreasing, and the number of casualties with it. Finally, this week’s edition features several stories about heroes–soldiers who went above and beyond in their service to our country and were recognized for it.
Operation Scorpion kicked off this week, and several factors make it a unique security sweep. The target list for the operation contained 52 names, and was compiled through Iraqi intelligence gathering. Also, the operation was planned solely by Iraqis, in this case Major General Anwar, commander of the 2nd Iraqi Army Brigade, and his staff. Twenty-four of the terrorists on target list were captured. The Iraqi’s American advisor spoke about the success of the operation and the continued progress of the Iraqi army:
“This Iraqi Army Brigade has made tremendous progress in the five months we’ve been working with them,” said Colonel David Gray, Commander, 1st BCT, 101st Airborne Division. “In October, they were loosely organized and not very well trained. The success of Operation Scorpion, and their ability to conduct a complex mission in the Hawijah area without suffering or inflicting casualties, demonstrates their professionalism and improved level of discipline.”
100 soldiers of the 7th Iraqi Army Division conducted their first independent operation in Anbar Province. The mission showed that the abilities of Iraqis has improved immensely:
“They planned and executed the operation by themselves instead of us guiding them,” said Army Staff Sgt. Ken E. Miller, MiTT training officer. “They [Iraqi Army] are ready to show people that they can do this on their own.”
Iraqi special forces conducted an operation in Baghdad looking for terrorists involved in kidnappings and executions. During the operation, 16 terrorists were killed, 18 were detained, and one kidnapping victim was rescued.
Iraqi police thwarted an attempted suicide car-bombing on their headquarters south of Baghdad, killing two of the terrorists. Iraqi police came under fire from a passenger in a minibus that was headed towards their position. The explosives-laden minibus blew up when police returned fire. The driver of the minibus was not a willing martyr:
Subsequent examination of the bus revealed that the driver’s hands had been chained to the wheel.
Iraqis are increasingly providing information against terrorists. In one instance, an Iraqi turned in a relative, who was eventually detained on charges of participating in drive-by attacks against coalition forces. Near the town of Al Imam, tips led to the discovery of two large weapons caches.
During January, 25 IEDs exploded along a road designated Route Redwing. The 4th ID was sent into the area, along with Iraqi troops, and arrested a terrorist connected to the bombings. The house he was in is now used as an observation post. The local population supports the combined efforts of Iraqi and U.S. forces:
Marez feels many of the locals agree and approve of the U.S. presence in their area. If the 506th is securing the area and keeping bombs and explosives off the road, then the kids have nothing to fear when they’re out playing or on their way to school.
The city of Tall Afar, once a focal point of terrorist activity, is now safe thanks to Iraqi forces. Six months after an operation to clear the city of terrorists, the streets are still safe, and schools and markets are open again. The Iraqi battalion in charge of security in the city operates independently and is one of the best in the country.
In Ramadi, Iraqi forces, operating independently, discovered the largest weapons cache yet to be found by Iraqi foces. The operation was based on tips by local Iraqis:
The cache consisted of: sniper rifles, numerous rockets and rocket launchers, multiple hand grenades, RPGs, loaded weapons magazines, numerous artillery rounds, an assortment of propellants, and bomb and IED making materials. Additionally, the IA Soldiers removed a completed suicide vest that was fully armed with explosives and ready to be used in a terrorist attack.
Members of the 5th Iraqi Army Division assumed sole responsibility of the battlespace around the southern half of Diyala Province. Their pride was evident:
“With pride and loftiness, we are assuming battle space from our friends. It is a great day for our battalion,” said Col. Hadi Jamal, commander, 3rd Bn., 2nd Brigade, 5th IAD. “It has been assigned to us, as a combat battalion, to conduct planning and coordinate assaults on terrorist nests, chase them and paralyze their movements at day and night.”
The Iraqi army took control of security in part of Mosul this week. It is the second handover of battlespace in Mosul to the Iraqis since December. The city is also undergoing major reconstruction:
Since reconstruction began, more than 194 projects valued at $182 million have begun, with 56 completed. The effort to rebuild Mosul’s infrastructure has three major focal points.
There are 18 projects dedicated to water and sanitation, 83 projects involving education, and 45 projects designed to support law and governance that have been completed, said Col. Bruce Grant, deputy team leader for reconstruction.
600 Iraqis conducted an independent operation in Bayji. The operation led to the detention of 25 suspected terrorists.
The leader of a terrorist cell was captured in an Iraqi-led operation in the city of Haswa.
An operation northwest of Baghdad resulted in the discovery of several large weapons caches:
The caches contained 20 rockets, 53 rocket-propelled grenades, three anti-aircraft missiles with two launchers, an anti-tank missile, 24 mortar rounds, a mortar tube, and a variety of small-caliber artillery rounds. In addition to the ordnance, soldiers found items commonly used in roadside bombs.
Another tip led U.S. soldiers to a member of a terrorist cell, who in turn provided information on his accomplices. The cell is wanted for IED attacks and kidnapping.
A large cache used for making IEDs was discovered by soldiers from the 6th Iraqi Army Division:
The cache consisted of 16 bags of high-munitions explosives (approximately 900 lbs), one roll of detonation cord, nine long-range communication antennas, two demolition sticks (approximately 300 lbs), two ZPU anti-artillery guns, eight 155 mm rounds, a 122 mm round prepared as a roadside-bomb, a fire extinguisher prepared as a roadside-bomb, 30 82 mm mortar rounds prepared as roadside bombs and a 300-pound acetylene tank prepared as a roadside bomb.
In Abu Ghraib, U.S. soldiers uncovered more than 16 tons of weapons in a five-day period.
A Predator UAV killed three terrorists as they planted an IED near Balad Air Base. The terrorists were observed by the Predator digging a hole for an IED. Once it was clear they were planting an IED, the Predator launched a Hellfire missile, killing all three.
More than one million Shiite pilgrims went to the Iraqi cities of Karbala and Najaf in celebration of Arbaeen. Terrorists routinely target these sorts of events. However, they were unable to do much damage thanks to improved security:
According to Rumsfeld, “this year’s pilgrimage passed, for the most part, peacefully,” after years of violence once marked the occasion.
Rumsfeld confirms that only “12 were killed and two wounded in connection with the pilgrimage,” whereas in 2004 terrorists killed over 120 civilians, injuring over 300 more.
Rumsfeld says, “Iraq is benefiting from added training and increased military capabilities of the 241,000 Iraqi soldiers and police. Provincial governors, provincial police chiefs and Iraqi security personnel executed an extensive security plan.”
As usual, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated the obvious:
“If the coalition does not have an adequate number of forces on the ground, as some argue, how did the Iraqi forces with coalition support manage to protect millions of Iraqis? And if terrorists tried and failed to pull off a massive attack, what does this say about their strength and their capabilities?” he asked.
One of the biggest misconceptions about Iraq is that violence is endemic across the country, but nothing could be further from the truth, as General Casey points out:
Fact: violence is not widespread in Iraq. Three of Iraq’s provinces, Baghdad, Al Anbar and Salah ad Din, account for nearly 75 percent of all the attacks. The other 15 provinces average less than six attacks daily and 12 average less than two attacks per day. That does not erase what is happening in Baghdad, but it does put it in perspective.
Fact: 70 percent of Iraq’s population lives without incidents.
And how about some perspective on the violence:
The rate of violent deaths in war-ravaged northern Uganda is three times higher than in Iraq and the 20-year insurgency has cost $1.7bn (£980m), according to a report by 50 international and local agencies released today.
The violent death rate for northern Uganda is 146 deaths a week or 0.17 violent deaths per 10,000 people per day. This is three times higher than in Iraq, where the incidence of violent death was 0.052 per 10,000 people per day, says the report.
The news is also good for U.S. soldiers. In March, fatalities fell to a two year low. Moreover, the number of deaths from roadside bombs fell one year low of twelve. In Baghdad, the number of attacks on our troops dropped by 58 percent this week, but this decline isn’t the only explanation for the decrease in deaths. The increased capability of Iraqi forces plays a big part.
Despite being targets for terrorist attacks, Iraqis continue to sign up to serve their country in the military. In Ramadi, recruits explained their reasons for making the two year commitment:
“My family encouraged me to sign up for the Iraqi Army. Security is a problem in this area and it’s up to the men of the city to take a stance against the violence and help build our new government,” said a local Iraqi man, as he waited to be checked by an Iraqi medical doctor.
“With the new government in place, Iraq is heading in the right direction. I drove here from Jazeera to sign up for the Iraqi Army,” said an Iraqi Army Candidate.
In related news, efforts to recruit Sunnis into the military are starting to pay off:
They came by the hundreds. Iraqi men, mostly young but a few graybeards, milling about the desert or squatting in the sand with their robes tucked between their legs and turbans fluttering in the breeze.
It’s recruiting day. These men have come to join the Iraqi army.
They are Sunni Arabs from tribes that populate the vast desert region to the west along the Syrian border.
On just one day in Qaim, 400 Sunnis showed up to join the Iraqi Army, many of them former insurgents. This Sunnis have no love of the terrorists in Iraq:
One said he joined because his brother had been killed by an insurgent bomb.
“I want to shoot terrorists,” he said, his face tightening into a hard scowl.
Another 831 Iraqis signed up in Fallujah.
Japan is providing $655 million in loans to Iraq in order to improve the country’s irrigation systems, power plants, and port facilities. The loan is the first installment of the $3.5 billion Japan pledged to Iraqi reconstruction in 2003.
Renovations are complete on the Karbala Government Building:
The local administration building received a full interior make-over, including new heating and air conditioning systems, electrical wiring, wall finishes, stage area, seating, and furniture. The exterior of the building was also upgraded with a power transformer, courtyard area, restroom facilities, and a new coat of paint.
Sadr Al Yousefiyah (reg. req.) use to be used by terrorists to stage attacks against targets in Baghdad. A joint U.S./Iraqi operation liberated the town, which is now the site of numerous projects aimed at rebuilding the town’s infrastructure. A project restoring drinking water to the town has already been completed, and another six are underway:
“Half a dozen projects are already underway in the wake of this operation,” said McFadden, program manager, 2nd BCT, 101st Abn. Div. “These projects are a mix of short and long-term solutions to the problems facing these people. Some of these projects are simple road repairs to facilitate civilian transportation, while others are complicated and longer term projects developed to repair local electrical networks over the long haul,” said McFadden.
More than a dozen reconstruction projects are underway in Yousefiyah, including the rehabilitation of twelve schools. The city now has a “nearly continuous” power supply.
Iraq’s first ATM is now available at the Baghdad branch of the Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI), and plans are underway to put ATM’s throughout the country. TBI issued a statement showing their expectation of opportunities for significant growth in the future:
“We are very happy to be the first financial institution to bring ATM service to the Iraqi people. This is another first for TBI. We continue to be the most modern and innovative bank in Iraq.”
This is just another sign that Iraq’s economy is getting better. In a recent poll, 56 percent of Iraqis said that the economy was improving, and 65 percent said their economic conditions were improving. Despite the violence, Iraqis are struggling to build a modern, peaceful society.
Unemployment continues to be a problem in Iraq, but Dhi Qar University is working to remedy the situation. It will host a series of job training seminars:
Those taking part in the training courses will learn a number of skills in the electrical, tailoring, carpentry trades, as well as nursing, al-Yasiri said.
An outdoor market in Kirkuk was revitalized with the help of USAID. The work included paving the streets, installing sidewalks, and constructing a drainage canal. Locals provided $10,000 for the project.
U.S. and Iraqi medics conducted a medical clinic for residents of the Jabouri peninsula. The clinic treated more than 250 people, many of them children.
Here’s some more of what we have accomplished, via Centcom:
‐There were virtually no cell-phone subscribers during Saddam Hussein’s reign. Today, there are more than 5 million.
‐Eighty percent of the Saddam Hussein-era debt has been forgiven by Iraq’s debtors.
‐Women comprise 25 percent of the Iraqi parliament, which is the highest proportion in the Arab world and one of the largest percentages worldwide.
‐The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides training on industrial equipment enabling Iraqis to operate and maintain equipment and power systems throughout the country.
‐Nearly 100 percent of Iraqi children have been vaccinated.
‐In March of 2003, per capita income in Iraq was $500. Today it has risen to $1,200.
‐More than 30,000 new businesses have been registered in Iraq since the fall of Saddam.
‐In education, 3,000 schools have been rehabilitated, 9 million new textbooks distributed, and 36,000 teachers have been trained.
‐The country has more than 2,000 Internet cafes, and a free press.
‐The country’s electrical output is near pre-war levels, and demand for electricity has doubled.
Alabama Governor Bob Riley returned from Iraq this week and noted that U.S. troops remain upbeat and committed to completing their mission:
“If you had a poll that said, ‘Would you like to go home?’ I’m sure that 72 percent of the people would say ‘I would like to go home, I would like to be with my family,’” he said. “But if you had asked the follow-up question, ‘Do you want to leave before your mission is complete?’ I believe 75, 80 or 100 percent of them would say no.”
Students at the university in Basra are working to alert their countrymen to the dangers of sectarian violence.
The student movement, therefore, has devoted itself to raising awareness about the folly of sectarian violence by distributing leaflets and posters and through the internet. According to members, the group, which supports itself financially, is growing daily.
The story of eleven-year-old Annie Hassee reveals just how important it is for those of us here at home to support our soldiers fighting overseas. Annie sent a letter addressed to “Any Soldier,” and it was opened by Scott Montgomery of the South Carolina National Guard, who was at a hospital in Balad, recovering from a wound he received from an IED blast. This simple gift immediately lifted his spirits:
“When I opened it (the envelope), I found a beautiful handmade card from you. It brought a big smile to my face to know that some young girl in Indiana took the time to send a ‘good luck’ card to someone she doesn’t even know.”
The two became pen pals, and to show his appreciation Scott gave Annie the Purple Heart he was awarded.
Two Macedonian soldiers were awarded the U.S. Medal of Merit for their contribution in Iraq. The Medal of Merit was established to honor the service of U.S. and allied soldiers.
So many stories in the media are about the most irrelevant subjects. It’s a shame that more attention isn’t given to stories about real heroes, like Paul Smith. Smith is the only soldier to win the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq. Here is how he did it:
Now all his training, all his experience, all the instincts that had made him a model soldier, were about to be put to the test. With 16 men from his First Platoon, B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, Sgt. Smith was under attack by about 100 troops of the Iraqi Republican Guard.
The Iraqis were practically on top of him. Coolly grasping the situation, Sgt. Smith ordered Spc. Seaman to back the APC south into the compound to a position half way down the eastern wall. There he could arc the big machine gun back and forth, from the gate entrance to the north, all along the western wall of the triangle, to the Iraqi occupied tower in the southwest corner to his left.
To fire the machine gun, Sgt. Smith had to stand in the APC’s main hatch, his body exposed from the waist up to a withering fire coming at him from three directions. On the ground through the blur of combat, Sgt. Matthew Keller saw Sgt. Smith grimly firing measured bursts from atop the APC even as a hail of bullets hit around him.
Sgt. Keller yelled at him to get out. Sgt. Smith looked back at him and with a slight shake of his head, made a cutting motion across his throat with his right hand. Sgt. Keller would always remember the look in his eyes. “There was no fear in him whatsoever.”
As Spc. Seaman, crouching in the adjoining hatch, fed him ammunition belts, Sgt. Smith directed an expert and murderous fire with the long-barreled M2, hitting Iraqis who tried to enter the compound through the gate or over the wall. He tried also to suppress renewed fire coming from the Iraqis in the guard tower to his left.
Finally, one of his fellow sappers, First Sgt. Timothy Campbell, led a small fire team which stole up to the tower and killed all Iraqis inside. But by this time, Sgt. Smith’s machine gun had fallen silent. The attack had been broken. Nearly 50 Iraqi dead lay all over the area. Others were in retreat. But Sgt. Smith was now slumped in the turret hatch, blood soaking the front of his uniform.
Spc. Seaman jumped out of the vehicle in tears. “I told him we should just leave,” he said. Pvt. Gary Evans drove the APC out of the compound at high speed to the nearby aid station.
Read it all.
Another name we should all know is Victor Lewis. He was awarded the Bronze Star for “dodging machine gun fire to rescue a pair of fellow Marines.”
A Silver Star and Bronze Star were awarded to two Marines for actions in Fallujah when they risked their lives to save a wounded Iraqi soldier:
The two led a counter-assault that killed 13 insurgents and captured eight. Russell was struck in the helmet, suffering a concussion and “bleeding profusely.”
“When he discovered that a Marine isolated in a bunker needed ammunition, he raced to supply him by crossing 75 meters of open area while under fire from at least six insurgents,” said Russell’s citation.
The Iraqi soldier was wounded and pinned down away from the main part of the platoon. The two Marines dashed across an open area under fire to get him to safety so he could be rushed to a field hospital.
Few things are so inspiring as the selfless actions of good soldiers fighting for a good cause. There are many more stories that could be told–and should. Perhaps it doesn’t make for as sensational news as IEDs and suicide bombings, but it’s real and it’s encouraging–and it’s important to know.