December 01, 2007

Another Media Account Disputed

Hala Jaber's American-backed killer militias strut across Iraq has been challenged by an American soldier on the ground.

1LT Brendan Griswold, 1-5 CAV in Ameriyah writes:

I do not know how long Ms. Hala Jaber's trip to Ameriya lasted or where exactly she visited inside the city, but the events that she describes in her recent article ("American-backed killer militias strut across Iraq," November 25), totally contradict the progress I have personally witnessed in the past 13 months here in Ameriya.

I have spent the last 13 months as a Platoon Leader in the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, stationed in western Baghdad and responsible for securing the population of Ameriya—a Sunni dominant and once-upscale portion of the Iraqi capital. My time here has allowed me to become close to many of the citizens inside Ameriya who live in my various areas of responsibility. Having been fortunate enough to remain in one area throughout my deployment, the relationships I have formed with many of the local citizens have allowed me to become very aware of what exactly they have been through, as well as the opportunity to celebrate with them—literally—the peace that has returned to this once violent area.

When 1-5 CAV first arrived in Ameriya in 2006, innocent Iraqis lying dead on the street were a daily reminder of the sectarian violence that was engulfing Baghdad. Attacks against American and Iraqi Army patrols were a daily occurrence—as the deaths of 14 of my comrades can attest to. The markets were often deserted, locals refused to talk to American or Iraqi forces in public; the people were terrified.

In the Spring and Summer of 2007, a determined force of al Qaeda in Iraq fighters entered Ameriya and began to terrorize the population. The process was slow, but eventually it became clear that al Qaeda was enforcing their extremist ideologies on the population. Ultimately, they publicly declared Ameriya as their capital. Government buildings were being blown-up. Women were being murdered. We were in a daily fight for each city-block in our area, and there seemed little end in sight to the daily conflict. Ameriya, as one of my experienced Soldiers proclaimed at the time, had quickly become "the next Falluja." We did not, however, approach the situation in Ameriya as American forces had done with cities like Falluja.

Then, in late May, several dozen or so local citizens came forward and announced that they were going to fight the al Qaeda elements in Ameriya. My battalion, along with these local volunteers, established a base of operations at one of the local mosques and we began to target al Qaeda in the surrounding muhullahs. I remember spending long days and late nights at the mosque, working with these local citizens—most of whom had lived in Ameriya all of their lives—gathering intelligence from them, planning operations, and then moving out together and trying to capture al Qaeda fighters. One week's worth of operations with these local citizens yielded more results (multiple caches, detainees, etc.) for my platoon then the previous 7 months combined. Put quite simply, we began to see progress.

Since May, 1-5 CAV and the 2/1/6 Iraqi Army have worked with these local volunteers and helped to transform them from a few dozen local volunteers to what is now a legitimate contracted security force called the "Forsan al Rafidayn,"—"Knights of the Two Rivers," in English—or "FAR" as we Yankees call them. They are currently placed in various locations throughout Ameriya and are responsible for conducting policing operations and gathering intelligence. I have not witnessed any FAR members wearing masks in months. They are very effective, as Ameriya has not had an IED attack since August 7th and no type of effective small arms attack in an even longer time. Shi'ites who fled more than a year ago are returning in large numbers—often, with the FAR's help.

Ms. Jaber's assertion that some of the FAR had "been aligned with al Qaeda" is correct, however, to make this statement while further implying they have "created a virtual enclave" in Ameriya is to suggest that the members of the FAR continue to practice and advance al Qaeda's insurgent and ethno-sectarian agenda. The truth is that, like in every successful counter-insurgency, the citizens of Ameriya, and yes even some of the terrorists, decided they had enough of the violence and that it was time to work with, instead of against, Coalition Forces. While many people, including myself and most of my Soldiers, were at first apprehensive about working with these forces, we eventually realized that what occurred is what we had hoped for the entire time—the people grew tired of the violence and wanted to help the security forces rid the area of the enemy.

In her article, Ms. Jaber describes a visit to a local school with members of the FAR, where they "slapped" and "kicked" local students for having "un-Islamic ringtones" on their cell phones. I do not know which school Ms. Jaber went to (and I doubt she could recall the name of the school, or the name of the FAR member who committed the alleged offense), but from the experiences I have had conducting hundreds of patrols with the FAR, I can tell you that the likelihood of this happening is small, and, if it did, then it was the exception and certainly not the rule.

The FAR are not perfect, but neither is any security organization. When a complaint is received against a member of the FAR, a U.S. Army officer, as well as a member of the FAR, both conduct independent investigations. My Battalion Commander possesses the authority to terminate any member of the FAR who violates their signed-contract that bars them from participating in criminal acts. To date, several FAR members have been fired as a result of their misconduct, the majority of which have been done so not by U.S. officers, but by the members of the FAR themselves. They are policing their own ranks more each day.

Furthermore, Ms. Jaber’s "tag-a-long" imbedded journey through the streets of Ameriya—that lasted a very short time—was obviously predicated on a pessimistic agenda regarding the overall situation in Iraq. While she did in fact run into a young non-commissioned officer of the battalion eating a falafel on the main street in Ameriya—an event that simply could not have occurred six months ago—she also met the Battalion's Executive Officer, who at the time was escorting several other journalists on a dismounted patrol through Ameriya. Ms. Jaber was asked at that time if she wished to meet the leaders of 1-5 CAV, 2/1/6 IA, or the FAR in order to gain an understanding of how these security officials view the situation in Ameriya. Replying in the negative, she opted instead for an escort around Ameriya by several young members of the FAR, who, while committed to protecting the local population, are young, energetic, and eager to display their bravado to all who will pay attention. Ms. Jaber has been contacted by 1-5 CAV since her visit to Ameriya and continues to decline an opportunity to hear a different side of the story of Ameriya.

I invite Ms. Jaber to return to Ameriya. If she does, I will personally introduce her to some of my Iraqi friends who lived through the sectarian violence, the invasion of al Qaeda, and what will hopefully become, as the locals have begun to call it, "the re-birth of Ameriya."

Which account you find more credible, of course, may depend on your own biases.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at December 1, 2007 12:43 PM

Given that Lt. Griswold's account can almost certainly be corroborated by other members of his unit, the chain of command, and the paper trail (while never serving in the military, I am certain that they keep copies of written or electronic communication with reporters); and never having fallen prey to the lefty stereotype of our soldiers being one step above (or perhaps one step below) a Neanderthal, thereby considering Lt. Griswold to be aware of the paper trail and other factors... I'll put my money on the Lieutenant.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 1, 2007 01:08 PM