Coalition mission shifts to stabilization
VICTORY CAMP, Iraq — U.S. troops are being trained in riot diversion techniques following skirmishes in an Iraqi city where American soldiers killed 15 Iraqi civilians in separate incidents this week.
Meanwhile Army engineers, teaming up with Iraqis, are working around the clock to improve electric, water and sewer service in the country but continue to be hampered by an antiquated infrastructure that was cobbled together.
The coalition mission in Iraq is shifting to stabilization, but that does not mean violent flare-ups are a thing of the past, said Army Brig. Gen. Daniel Hahn, V Corps chief of staff.
“It will still look like war at times,” he said Thursday during a briefing in the presidential palace at Victory Camp. “An element will remain that does not like the direction the new Iraqi government is taking.”
In the past few days, skirmishes turned violent in Fallujah, about 30 miles west of Baghdad, resulting in American soldiers shooting into crowds and killing civilians. At least 15 Iraqis were killed and seven injured in three separate incidents in Fallujah. Six soldiers have been hurt, including five in a grenade attack Wednesday night. No troops have been killed.
Hahn said the coalition, based upon informants, believes Baath Party officials are using permitted demonstrations against the U.S. presence as cover to attack U.S. troops.
During the demonstrations, U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment saw men with weapons in the crowds. Initially, the soldiers did not fire, Hahn said, but did once they were attacked.
“We regret the loss of any life,” Hahn said.
In another incident Wednesday, rocks were thrown and shots were fired at a convoy of American soldiers. One American soldier was wounded when a rock was thrown through a vehicle window.
Military planners had anticipated riot situations, and special riot gear has been brought with the troops, Hahn said. Some, but not all, soldiers have been trained to use the equipment, and more training is ongoing, he said.
He declined to say what gear or tactics would be used.
Over time, Hahn predicted, the type of incidents that affected Fallujah would disappear. “More and more people will want to turn away from violence,” he said.
As basic services are restored and improved, the incentive for peace will grow, military officers said Thursday.
Army Brig. Gen. Steven Hawkins, commander of the task force working to prevent a humanitarian crisis, said people are getting water between 60 and 70 percent of time, but the public utility systems have problems. No power plants were destroyed in coalition bombing, but the “distribution lines did get somewhat beat-up,” he said.
Hawkins is commander of Task Force Fajr. In Arabic, Fajr means dawn or first light.
Even before the war began, Iraq’s water system lost 50 percent of the water it was trying to get to people through faulty pipes and connections.
The electrical grid had similar problems, he explained, noting that in summer months, the country had “rolling brown outs,” where the amount of electricity to customers would be reduced to avoid overloading the system.
A single power plant, mostly run by oil, will have turbines from different manufacturers from varying countries, which makes getting new parts difficult, he said.
Northern Iraq, he said, had not been hard-hit by power problems.
Hahn also said that coalition forces are seizing huge amounts of Iraqi weapons on a daily basis. West of Baghdad, American troops discovered a weapons and ammunitions depot that encompassed a compound of buildings spanning several square miles, Hahn said.
Troops also found schools and mosques filled with hundreds of weapons and rocket-propelled grenades and thousands of rounds of ammunition, he said.
There are problems with thugs and bandits getting to the weapons before coalition forces, and then turning their finds into black market weapon bazaars. But, Hahn said, coalition forces are beginning to close those outlets.
In six weeks, Baghdad has gone from being under siege to being rebuilt, said Army Col. Mike Hawrylak, deputy operations officer for the Coalition Forces Land Component Command.
Humanitarian assistance is coming from Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, he said, the police force is being rebuilt. “We want to give the people a better country than they had,” he said.