Hammer Brigade commander: ‘Sons of Iraq’ aided in success
Stars and Stripes May 3, 2008
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq — When the Hammer Brigade arrived as part of the “surge” force in March 2007, its area of operation southeast of Baghdad was either a hot pocket of violence or heading that way.
But as the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division prepares for its return in a couple of weeks to Fort Benning, Ga., it is leaving a region transformed, according to the unit’s commander.
“That’s because of the ‘Sons of Iraq.’ The local people,” Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr. said during a final meeting with the leading sheiks in the Shiite-dominated region of Mada’in Qada.
On Wednesday, Grigsby also introduced the leader of the replacement unit — the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division — which will assume full control of the Rhode Island-size area on May 15.
During the meeting, Col. Robert P. White, the commander of the Baumholder-based unit, gave assurances that his soldiers would build on the success.
Among the Hammer Brigade’s achievements during the past 15 months: 160 extremists killed, more than 600 detained, 197 roadside bombs identified, 205 caches captured. The number of murders dropped from 631 in 2006 to 253 in 2007 and is on pace for 100 this year, Grigsby said.
In all, there are 6,900 “Sons of Iraq” in Mada’in. There were none before the arrival of the Fort Benning unit, which is managing territory once occupied by just a couple of company-size elements.
“It used to be a hot area. We worked together to keep the terrorists out. I can say the area is safe,” said Sheik Nori Zabar Khamiss, chairman of the region’s tribal support council.
Now, much of the focus is on improving infrastructure in the area. Mada’in, which is primarily agricultural, has a population of roughly 1.2 million. But during the course of the five-year war, many of the canals have dried out, leaving fields burned brown.
For the region’s villages and towns, lack of water is the top concern. But it’s not the only one.
In the town of Wahida, in southern Mada’in, a tribal leader talked about the need for better health care and more resources at the local schools. In the 1950s, schoolchildren were certain to receive a healthy lunch during the school day. Today, it’s just bread, said Sheik Abu Hatem, a member of the support council.
“Today we have oil (revenue) and we cannot feed our kids,” said Hatem, who also reported large numbers of children are suffering from illnesses transmitted by mosquitoes.
Nonetheless, the sheiks agreed it’s better to be preoccupied with things other than security.
Now, “We’re talking about services for projects,” said Mushen Nasser, Mada’in’s mayor.