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Could Removal of U.S. Support Shift Iraq's Peaceful Balance? (VIDEO)Tim King Salem-News.com
Inside Iraq: Lessons in what happens when a nation stops paying its former enemies.
(ABU FADOOZ, Iraq) - On this September afternoon, I am back out on patrol with the Army's 101st Airborne out of Balad, Iraq.
Like every mission here, before these troops go outside the wire, they listen to a briefing from their platoon commander.
"If we get hit by an IED, far near side security, get security of the site first and see if we can get out of the kill zone. Secure the site. Gunners, positive ID, you have positive ID on the trigger man, kill 'em dead." The preparation for each patrol, laid out by Lt. Brian Reynolds, is extensive. No stones are left unturned and the soldiers feel prepared for what may come.
Today's patrol will lead us to a village called Abu Fadooz, an Iraqi community that has become more stable in recent months, thanks largely most agree, to the money the United States began providing for Iraqi militias, to conduct security checkpoints referred to here in Iraq as CLC's.
The Sons of Iraq, members of what is officially known as Iraq's Awakening Council, are local men recruited to defend their own communities by manning the CLC checkpoints while working closely with the U.S. Army and Marines.
The soldiers I was traveling with inquired about the local tribal leader and seek information on recent events. The close relations with the Sons of Iraq keeps U.S. forces dialed in on local activity.
1st Lt. Brian Reynolds was the commander of the platoon. He commented on the effectiveness of the Sons of Iraq.
"It's actually going pretty well, I can't complain, violence in this area has gone down pretty much, they do a good job, they really do."
Sgt Argenis Mendes-Rosario agreed, making this comment about the Sons of Iraq's effectiveness, "So far they show up on time, its like anything else; baby steps, but the program is doing better and they caught up to the work real quick."
It was announced just days ago that Iraq will begin to pick up the cost for 55,000 members of the Sons of Iraq, that amounts to a little over than half of this security group, but the move will still leave thousands of these men suddenly without their $300 a month income.
Closing down the Sons of Iraq's CLC checkpoints may be symbolic of the United States handing responsibility back to the Iraqi government, both fiscally and militarily, but the cost in the long run may carry an even higher pricetag, as the deterrents to violence are diminished.
As the bearers of this news, this platoon commander and his staff visited the home of a local sheik and explained that a checkpoint in their area was targeted for closure. The sheik's son insisted that the checkpoint should stay open, because closing it would open the door to the terrorists that are now kept at bay.
The Iraqi interpreter with the platoon translated the man's words, "He says the thing is... if they move that CLC, take out that CLC, they will go out and place IED's all of the time, it is not necessary."
Iraq says it will merge 20 percent of the Awakening Council members into the security forces, while other members may obtain jobs in civilian ministries, or in construction; rebuilding and repairing communities damaged in the war.
But members of the Awakening Council say it remains to be seen, whether or not they will get those jobs. American soldiers who work with the Sons of Iraq, say their loyalty is largely based on the payments which will soon go away. It could alienate many, and even lead to outright defiance toward the Iraqi government.
While these men have been told their checkpoint is on the closure list, these men have been told that theirs is not, bringing some relief at least for the time being. American soldiers working with the Sons of Iraq, say they have received reliable information that they in turn, have put to use.
Specialist Ben Munitz says the close relations with people here keeps the safety level high, "We come here often to check in with the local population, make sure everything is doing good, keeping the terrorists out."
But even with the payments, it is hard for these soldiers to get a real fix on the loyalty of all the members of the Sons of Iraq.
Sgt. Ryan Ahern says there are often many questions, "But like I said, it would be hard to actually get down to the heart of it to see who is behind the scenes, good 100 percent good, or working for the other side, so you really never know."
"Do you worry that some of that money goes back into the insurgency?" I asked.
"Oh, most definitely, I don't think it is ever going to stop. These people, I don't know numbers, I can't tell you numbers. I'm here on the ground with my guys making sure there aren't people here on the ground harassing people in this country, but some of the money probably goes back into supplying the few around here who are doing that stuff."
The "stuff" Ahern refers to, often comes in the form of mortar and rocket attacks on nearby Camp Anaconda at Balad.
Locals can earn two hundred dollars for lobbing a mortar at the American Air Base, and that is a lot of money for people here who are otherwise unemployed.
As their patrol makes its rounds, questions fill the minds of these soldiers. There are always questions about how dangerous some of these local men actually could be. While agreeing that the Sons of Iraq program has helped, Ahern believes it is a good time for Iraq to begin dealing with the programs the United States is funding.
"I don't know it is always hard for us to tell who us good and who is bad, but we have to start giving it back, at the lower level with these CLC checkpoints, we need to give them the power back, letting them establish their own government you know."
"I know they are downsizing the CLC checkpoints soon and they are trying to find jobs for the guys that are going to be losing jobs with the Sons of Iraq, but we have to slowly let it be up to them whether they have corrupt IP's, (Iraqi Police) or corrupt CLC's, it's really going to be up to how much they want their country to operate. It's up to them and if its up to them, then we can't be here forever."
The lieutenant leading this platoon says he believes the information he receives from the local sheik's son is solid, and that means a great deal to everyone involved.
"He's a pretty good friend of mine, he gives me information about what's going on in town, he's a pretty good guy. Conversations, he's the kind of guy you can have a conversation with and he will give you his honest opinion and that is what I really like. I like to know what they really think; not what I want to hear."
The children in this village seem fascinated by the Americans and a television camera instantly draws their attention. They are the innocent today and the future of this country.
They're full of life, but limited in terms of opportunity, and those limitations span this nation, affecting all age groups. Many say and that the Sons of Iraq are one of the only things, along with U.S. financial support, that has worked to bring a level of peace here, and that security could vanish quickly with the increasing elimination of the U.S. support.
WATCH THE VIDEO NEWS REPORT BELOW:
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines.
Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Silver Spoke Award by the National Coalition of Motorcyclists (2011), Excellence in Journalism Award by the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs (2010), Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), First-place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Tim has several years of experience in network affiliate news TV stations, having worked as a reporter and photographer at NBC, ABC and FOX stations in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. Tim was a member of the National Press Photographer's Association for several years and is a current member of the Orange County Press Club.
Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. As News Editor, Tim among other things, is responsible for publishing the original content of 82 Salem-News.com writers. He reminds viewers that emails are easily missed and urges those trying to reach him, to please send a second email if the first goes unanswered. You can write to Tim at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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