Monday, April 28, 2008

Bold Steel in Pictures

Saturday, April 19, 2008

It's All About the Benjamins, Habibi

April 18, 2008

One of the more significant developments in Iraq over the past year has been the evolution of the Awakening Council, or what is now known as the Concerned Local Citizens (CLC) or the Sons of Iraq (SOI), The Awakening Council began as a locally organized security force of volunteers in a village working under the supervision of the sheik in that village. These groups began popping up when citizens, led by the sheiks, decided to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Theoretically. In some cases, there may have been a genuine desire to put an end to insurgent-led violence, but in others, the newly formed groups took advantage of their position and created more problems, sometimes adding to the violence.
If a CLC group can be properly trained and managed, there are obvious benefits. Because the members are residents handpicked by the sheik in charge of the village, they should be invested in the wellbeing of that village. Many of these men are military-age males, an age group in need of gainful employment so as not to be tempted into less constructive pursuits. And often these men, even the sheiks, have been on the other side of the law, working against the Americans and their fellow Iraqis, so this is an opportunity to make a change. Or stay the same and get paid anyway. What started as a volunteer movement is now a salaried occupation. A CLC member earns $300 a month, U.S. dollars.
The soldiers of the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery (HHB) of the 2-320 (“Balls”) Battalion, have worked very closely with the CLC groups in the Balad area. Overall, the verdict is positive. Although it is impossible to predict how these groups would behave if our soldiers were not involved in their management, right now they are involved and the hope is that our positive influence will have a lasting effect.
The United States is providing the financial backing for each CLC group, which means we sign the paychecks. What this really means is the soldiers deliver stacks of crisp U.S. currency to the sheik in charge of his group, and he dispenses the money to his men. Recently, a sheik was suspected of mismanaging his men’s pay, after all, the system is easy to abuse. As a precaution, the soldiers participated in the payment process the following pay period.
Captain JonWayne Lindsey, together with the sheik of the village, dispensed payments to the sheik’s men. If word spread that the Americans were watching the payment process, sheiks from the neighboring villages would, hopefully, decide not to take any chances. Of course, if his men are manning the checkpoints like they are supposed to, a corrupt sheik might not get very far anyway.
Over one hundred-thirty men were part of this CLC organization, which meant the American soldiers dedicated almost a full day to helping secure the building where payments were handed out, overseeing the crowd of AK-47 toting Iraqis, and keeping track of the money and the people collecting it. The sheik made sure the soldiers had plenty of refreshments, and had a lunch of kebabs, chicken, salad and fresh bread brought in after about half of his workers had been paid.
The sun was setting by the time all of the money had been handed out. The sheik had also hired additional men without notifying the soldiers, putting them in the awkward position of not being able to pay everyone, and forcing them to organize a return trip in the near future to pay these new workers.
The day should have been over, but there was one more stop to make on CLC business. In another village, a sheik was working with the soldiers to set up his own CLC chapter. The soldiers were delivering a modest stack of bills to him, six thousand U.S. dollars, so he could begin buying supplies for his group: AK-47s, ammunition, and other materials necessary to help them do their job. Our soldiers were also providing concrete barriers, vests that would make the members more easily identifiable, and training in how to manage traffic, search vehicles and individuals.
The sheik was surrounded by a group of men when the money changed hands. Just as the Americans were demonstrating their faith in him by presenting him with this fairly ample sum, trusting that he would spend it on essential CLC equipment, the sheik seemed to be demonstrating his faith in his men by allowing them to be present when he accepted the money.
After the transaction was completed, the sheik asked the soldiers if they had time to talk about life in America. Lieutenant Mike Handlan relaxed his posture, not easy considering he was wearing his body armor and sitting in a small plastic chair, and invited the sheik to lead the conversation. He asked a series of questions: How many children are Americans allowed to have? Who files for a divorce, the husband or the wife? At what age is a child no longer his or her parents’ responsibility? A lively discussion followed. The advantages of having more than one wife were outlined. Possibly by the American soldiers.
Often what happens on the fringe of a mission is as interesting and in some ways as important as the mission itself. While Captain Lindsey, Lieutenant Handlan, and several soldiers from the HHB worked inside during the long CLC payday, Sergeant Ned Healy and Private First Class Andy Stallard monitored the traffic at the back of the building with two CLC members. Though they did not speak the same language, Ned and Andy learned about the Iraqi culture, and the Iraqis no doubt learned something about Americans. They laughed together, just as Lieutenant Handlan and the other soldiers laughed with the sheik and his men at the end of the long day.
The CLC may or may not be here to stay. Sergeant Jonathan Mudget, who was also present for the long payday, says the hope is that many of the CLC members will eventually join the Iraqi police force and help that layer of security become more evenly distributed throughout the province, which would mean the financial responsibility for those men would shift back to Iraq, back where it belongs.
For now, the soldiers are doing everything they can to support CLC efforts. Even if some CLC members were not model citizens before, it is possible that a steady income, a structured work schedule, and a positive relationship with the American soldiers will motivate them to take advantage of this opportunity. Every long day the soldiers have spent in Iraq will have been worth it if the Concerned Local Citizens, the Sons of Iraq, decide to live up to their name and really become part of the solution.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday, April 04, 2008