U.S. troops trying to disprove stereotypes at Mukhisa, Abu Kharma
MUKHISA, Iraq — The line of Iraqi men and boys waiting to see an Iraqi army doctor snaked outside the clinic Monday.
It was the second day of an operation led by the 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment to establish an Iraqi army presence and goodwill in this Sunni town about 20 miles northeast of Baqouba.
U.S. troops entered Mukhisa and the adjacent town of Abu Kharma on Sunday after hearing that the region is home to foreign fighters, members of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s group and financiers behind roadside bomb and mortar attacks, said Lt. Col. Thomas Fisher, battalion commander.
“So, we’re going to go up and give Mukhisa a little lovin’ and figure out who the bad people really are,” said Fisher, 42, of Sioux Falls, S.D.
One obstacle his troops face is that the two towns’ contact with coalition forces over the past three years has consisted of three raids, in which hundreds of townspeople were arrested only to be released later, Fisher said.
“When you neglect a town and don’t engage the population, the terrorists who are here and the insurgents can tell them anything they want, and they will believe it because there is no one else telling them anything different,” he said.
Upon entering Mukhisa, it was clear to Maj. John DiGiambattista that the local Iraqis believed bad things being said about U.S. troops, the operations officer said.
DiGiambattista, 36, noted that young girls scattered at the sight of U.S. troops, and when officers went to talk with a local official, Iraqis in the town thought he was being arrested.
The purpose of bringing an Iraqi doctor to see townspeople is to build up trust that will allow U.S. troops to turn the region over to the Iraqi army, said DiGiambattista, of Colorado Springs.
“We’re kind of taking the enemy’s ground from them,” he said. DiGiambattista said he is impressed by the turnout at the clinic.
He later noticed that the Iraqi troops on guard were not wearing their helmets or were out of uniform entirely. He took aside an Iraqi lieutenant and told him that he needs to keep his soldiers looking professional because the local Iraqis believe Iraqi troops are “thieves.”
“I keep my soldiers disciplined, doing the right thing. You have to do the same for your soldiers,” Digiambattista said.
Afterward, the Iraqi troops put their helmets on.
U.S. troops got a mixed reaction when entering the town.
Local officials said they were happy to see the 1-68, and one went as far as to say they could stay for the next 50 years.
But when U.S. troops tried handing out candy, the local children refused, saying, “Allah says no,” said Sgt. Alberto Granados, 40.
Granados, who spent several years in the Colombian army, said he could feel the town’s attitude was pro-insurgent.
“This is a typical ‘red-zone’ back in Colombia,” said Granados, of Colorado Springs.
Still, Granados said he was confident U.S. troops would succeed.
“Knowing Lt. Col Fisher, we will change this town,” he said.