Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Good News from Iraq: 27 Nov 2007

From MNF-I, Iraqis Line Up to Join Iraqi Police Auxiliary Forces.

CAMP LIBERTY — It has been a long, hard deployment for Soldiers serving here. Threats of improvised explosive devices, snipers and chaos seemed to hide around every corner.

Yet through it all, the rates of attacks against Coalition forces and their Iraqi counterparts are dropping. The Associated Press reported U.S. commanders as saying violence is down 55 percent since the surge of 30,000 troops arrived in the city.

Is this decrease a matter of more Soldiers patrolling the troubled streets of the Iraqi capital? Or is it because more Iraqis are standing up to the extremists to take their part and end the cycle of violence?

Amid the myriad reasons for the decrease, one thing is certain; Iraqis are lining up by the hundreds to join Iraqi Police Auxiliary Forces.

These forces, in spite of being paid less than Iraqi Policemen and who may one day becoming full-fledged police officers, are tasked with protecting their own neighborhoods or “muhallahs”.

Nineteen troops from 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment, along with their Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) brethren held recruitment drives to sign up volunteers in the Hateen and Yarmouk neighborhoods, Nov. 17.

At the Nov. 17 drive, sponsored by Battery A, more than (175) recruits volunteered; while at the Battery B drive in Yarmouk, (47) participated in the recruitment.

“It is extremely important,” said Dana, Ky., native Sgt. Michael Webb, a petroleum supply specialist from Battery A, 2nd Bn. 32nd Field Artillery, who manned the final out processing station at the event. “We are giving back to the Iraqi people. It is very important for them to help take care of themselves.”

During the drives, the recruits had to pass through a security checkpoint, undergo a brief medical screening, a biometrics check, an interview with local ISF commanders and a physical fitness test before they could see Webb to get their final processing.

“This was planned for a couple weeks,” the 32-year-old said. “We have been able to move people through efficiently through good communications.”

He added that there was a good deal of interpreters at the event which helped speed it along.

One of the most important steps in the process was ensuring no recruits had a suspicious background.

“We do biometrics checks to see if they come up on any list,” said Staff Sgt. Steven Guiffre, a military policeman with the 401st Military Police Company who oversaw the taking of fingerprints and retinal scans. “This helps eliminate those you don’t want as a policeman.”

The data gathered is put into a computer database which checks to see if the person is who they claim to be, and if they are suspected of criminal activity.

The Waterbury, Conn., native whose unit helps train Iraqi police officers said it is important for Iraq to have a strong police force.

“You don’t have a totally free society with the Iraqi Army pulling security,” he said. “Let the police take care of the towns and let the Army take care of the country.”

To ease any sectarian tensions, any male over the age of 17 was allowed to volunteer, regardless if they were Sunni or Shia.

“Everybody is allowed to volunteer as long as they live in the area,” said Bloomington, Ind., native, Staff Sgt. Patrick Whaley, the battalion’s Civil Military Operations platoon sergeant. “This is a good step in the right direction for the Mansour area, especially Hateen. It gets the locals working with the (Iraqi Security Forces) as they police their communities.”

The 37-year-old father of a 19-year-old private said during the Hateen recruitment drive that a few months ago the idea of this many people showing up would have been laughable.

“We had more than (175) people show up today,” he said. “Six to seven months ago, you wouldn’t even have had half that many.”

While the numbers seem small compared to larger neighborhoods like Saydiyah or Doura where the numbers reached up into the high hundreds, the IPA will soon hit the streets to help rid the city of criminals.