A graduation ceremony was held this week for the first 155 members of a community watch group in Hillah, Iraq, a city hit by some of the deadliest car bomb attacks in recent years.
The program — the first of several being adopted by communities in south-central Iraq — offers employment to citizens and serves to discredit insurgents, military officials say. Some people who were being trained by the program helped capture three members of assassination cells on Oct. 3, according to a release issued Wednesday.
Graduates underwent five weeks of training, with U.S. Special Forces serving as advisers. The Special Forces unit and the Hillah Special Weapons and Tactics team have sponsored four medical outreach clinics for the community since the program’s inception Aug. 8. More than 400 Iraqis have received in-house medical care from the Special Forces medics and the U.S. Army’s 478th Civil Affairs Battalion.
Over a period of several weeks, mortar attacks began to diminish significantly and Hillah SWAT leaders were able to begin discussions with Muqtars — local neighborhood leaders — about starting a community watch program, officials say.
Sunni Muslim extremists are blamed for recent attacks on Hillah, a predominantly Shiite city.
On July 24, a man driving a tow truck blew himself up in the busy commercial center of Bab al-Mashhad, killing at least 24 people and wounding dozens.
On June 25, a suicide car bomber struck a checkpoint near the governor’s office, killing at least eight people and wounding 31.
A couple of days earlier, a parked car exploded, killing at least two people and wounding 18 others.