One is Sunni and one Shiite. Together they are the key to peace in Baghdad suburb
May 9, 2008
QARGUHLIYAH, Iraq — One man is known for his eloquence. When Abu Amosh speaks before a group, eyes and ears lock in.
The other is a man of fewer words. Abu Mohanned, gruff and surly, was a former sergeant major in Saddam’s army.
These two “Sons of Iraq” leaders — one Sunni and one Shiite — are the glue in the ethnically mixed Baghdad suburb of Qarguhliyah, according the soldiers who work with them.
“That’s my politician and my warrior,” said Capt. Troy Thomas, commander of the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment’s Troop A. “We’ve been able to make it safe again. We’ve got Sunni and Shia sheiks working together.”
At Patrol Base Assassin, just about everyone knows that Amosh, the smooth talking Sunni, and Mohanned, the Shiite who somehow managed to rise in a Sunni dominated Army, are the linchpins to the peace that has emerged in Qarguhliyah.
It wasn’t so long ago that kidnappings, carjackings and streetside shootings were the norm. But 14 months after the unit arrived in Mada’in Qada as part of the so-called “surge” force, life in Qarguhliyah has been transformed.
“This is the model. This is what you want the rest of the country to be like,” said 1st Sgt. Myron Kennedy of Task Force 1-35 Armor.
“We’ve got a great opportunity here to build upon what they’ve done,” said Kennedy, whose Baumholder, Germany-based unit is replacing the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division’s cavalry troop.
While the soldiers of the 3rd ID redeploy to Fort Benning, Ga., the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division will step in to take control of Mada’in, an area southeast of Baghdad with a population of 1.2 million.
Across this region, the initial violence that distinguished the early part of 3rd ID’s deployment has been transplanted. While commanders describe the relative peace as fragile and reversible, the focus now is on improving essential services, strengthening the local governments and getting more grass-roots involvement.
Soldiers say the spark has been the rise of the “Sons of Iraq,” an armed civilian group funded by the U.S. military.
Perhaps one the best illustrations of the Hammer Brigade’s success is the area controlled by 3-1’s Troop A soldiers. When the soldiers first arrived, the streets were filled with garbage. Businesses were failing and villagers were under siege by the extremists who found sanctuary there.
But in a matter of months, progress became apparent, according to the solders.
After building their patrol post — a Spartan base constructed on a slab of concrete roughly the size of two football fields — the unit went to work.
“The first thing we did was we shook the place down. We respected the culture, but we set the tone,” 1st Lt. Mike Resnick, Troop A’s executive officer, said.
Aggressive patrols and raids were conducted around the clock. In a matter of weeks there was a distinct change.
Thomas said he knew he was having the desired effect when his name popped up on an al-Qaida operative list being circulated in town.
“That’s how desperate they had become,” he said.
After the roundups, Thomas started his search for local leaders. He found Amosh and Mohanned.
The two men quickly built up their ranks and established checkpoints and intelligence-gathering operations. Amosh also set up a headquarters building where weekly meetings could be held. That meeting developed into the Local Community Council, the first of its kind in the greater Jisr Diyala area.
The trust the unit has built up in many of the villages they patrol didn’t happen overnight, however.
“They definitely didn’t want us here when first got here,” Spc. Zachary Winburn.
The partnership with Amosh and Mohanned also took time, Thomas said.
But when fighting erupted in Sadr City in March, the local security force, along with the National Police, proved its willingness to stick together, Thomas said.
“These guys deserve a lot of credit. They stood their ground,” he said. “They even went across the river to reinforce another group that had fled.”
For all the success, though, there are still flickers of devastating violence. In early April, a bomb exploded along the main route through town, killing two 3rd ID soldiers from another unit that was passing through.
By the end of that night, though, Thomas had obtained pictures of all the suspects, which are now posted at various checkpoints.
“That would never have happened a year ago,” Thomas said. “Most of the people here don’t see us as the 10-foot bogeyman anymore.”