Iraqi soldiers encouraged to cultivate ties, report corruption
AL KASSIK MILTARY TRAINING BASE, Iraq — It’s not just about bullets and bombs.
That was the message U.S. and Iraqi army commanders delivered to officers and troops of the newly autonomous 3rd Iraqi Army Division at a formal transfer of authority ceremony Monday at this Iraqi military academy in the rolling, agricultural belt of northern Iraq.
In addition to seeking out and killing or capturing insurgents, commanders urged soldiers to keep their eyes open for and report instances of corruption and to cultivate good relationships with local residents and leaders.
“You will continue to have the full support of my division and my soldiers,” Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, commander of the 25th Infantry Division’s Task Force Lightning, told Iraqi soldiers Monday.
“But what we also need now is the support of all local leaders, the leaders of tribes, mayors and governors. We need their help to achieve victory.”
The 3rd Iraqi Army Division comprises three brigades, and falls under the command of Maj. Gen. Khorsheed Saleem Hassan Muhammad al-Dosky.
Soldiers in the division fought in the battle to recapture Tal Afar from insurgents in September 2005 and also defended polling stations during Iraq’s historic constitutional and parliamentary elections.
Their area of operations is roughly the size of the state of New Jersey, and covers most of western Ninawah province.
It also encompasses more than 200 miles of barren border land between Iraq and Syria.
The area is a diverse mix of Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen and has, for roughly the last year, been comparatively peaceful.
A months-long period of quiet in Tal Afar however has been interrupted by a string of suicide bombings.
At a time when accusations of religious and ethnic persecution have tarred Iraqi security forces in other areas, an Iraqi Ministry of Defense general urged soldiers and commanders to treat civilians civilly and with respect.
“I command you to treat the civilians with dignity,” Maj. Gen. Abdul Al Khadr said.
“We have to be hard on the enemy, just like the Holy Quran commands us to be hard on the enemy, but merciful with others. Obey your commanders. Respect your subordinates and treat your people with respect and dignity.”
The general also told the troops that corruption was an “infection” that was tearing Iraq apart, and that it was their duty to expose it when confronted with it.
“Be watchful with open eyes and look for administrative corruption,” he said.
Both U.S. and Iraqi commanders complain that government bureaucracy and power struggles are hampering the mission.
Among other issues, Mixon said he was frustrated by the Iraqi government’s failure to disburse close to $25 million in reconstruction funds earmarked for the city of Tal Afar, which suffered heavy combat damage in certain areas during Operation Restoring Rights.
The failure of the government to make good on this promise of reconstruction funds threatened to alienate residents.
“The money is just sitting there in the government’s treasury,” Mixon said.