Arab Jabour: "This is al Qaeda Country"
Patrol Base Murray, Baghdad Province: The Arab Jabour region, just southeast of Baghdad, is believed to have been one of the most dangerous areas in all Iraq. The region, which is nearly all Sunni, was home to a car bomb factory and operated as a staging area for al Qaeda to launch attacks into Baghdad. US forces ignored this region for the past two years. Prior to the launch of Operation Marne Torch on June 16, there were no Iraq forces in the region, and US forces patrolling the farmlands of Arab Jabour were stretched and did not maintain a permanent presence in the region.
As part of General David Petraeus' counterinsurgency plan, US forces left the larger camps and forward operating bases in and around Baghdad to control the regions know as the Baghdad Belts. In the Multinational Forces Central area of operations, the Army began building a series of combat outposts and patrol bases. From these bases, the US would reengage the local Iraqi populations, establish control of the routes into Baghdad and strike at al Qaeda cells and safe houses in the region. The counterinsurgency operation is in full swing in Arab Jabour.
The Area of Operations
The 1st Battalion, 30th Regiment, 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ken Adgie, was tasked with securing the corridor roughly outlined by the Tigris River to the east, Route Tampa -- the main road running north-south -- to the west; a line roughly extending east-west through Mahmudiyah in forms the southern edge of the area with Baghdad as the northern edge. The region, called Arab Jabour, is a series of lush farmlands and date palm groves crisscrossed with irrigation canals and dotted by small towns and village. Arab Jabour is "99.8 percent Sunni," said Adgie. "This is al Qaeda Country."
Patrol Base Murray, the forward headquarters for 1/30, was established on the main canal road running north along the Tigris. Murray, which was built in a palace formerly owned by Uday Hussein, cut the enemy line of communication to the north into Baghdad, but a gap still existed. Seven days ago, the 1/30 closed this gap by building Patrol Bases Hawkes located southeast of Murray.
The mission in Arab Jabour region is an odd mix of direct engagement with the local citizens and direct attacks on al Qaeda cells. Adgie directs fixed wing and helicopter strikes, mortar attacks, and air assaults on al Qaeda cells in one moment, while dealing with the Concerned Citizens and reconstruction projects the next.
Currently, there are no Iraqi Security Forces in Arab Jabour, and US forces are spread thin. "What I'd love to have is an Iraqi Army battalion to help secure the region," Adgie said.
The 1/30 has not pushed as far south as it would like, Adgie said, and small al Qaeda cells along with towns seeded with IEDs are said to exist. Brigadier General Jim Huggins explained during a battlefield circulation that the Army does not want to overstretch and have to wind up ceding territory.
Where there is no US presence, the locals have contacted US forces, hoping to form their own Concerned Citizens movements. But they will not make the first move to clear out the al Qaeda cells on their own. The Iraqis in these areas fear reprisals from al Qaeda in Iraq.
Arab Jabour's Concerned Citizens
Like in the Haswa region and elsewhere in southern Baghdad province, the local Iraqis began organizing their own auxiliary police forces to secure their neighborhood and eject al Qaeda.
In Arab Jabour, a man named General Mustaffa organized the group of Concerned Citizens. Mustaffa, a former officer in Saddam Hussein's army, recruited locals in Arab Jabour as the US Army moved into the region during Operation Marne Torch in mid-June.
Mustaffa and his volunteers saw the opportunity to eject al Qaeda from their neighborhoods after years of living under the oppressive form of Shariah law. "Al Qaeda killed our sons, ruined our infrastructure, displaced families, used sectarianism violence against our people," Mustaffa said in an interview with The Long War Journal. "They killed our vital workers: electricians, engineers, those who ran the water pumps."
Mustaffa's Concerned Citizens number 537 men of all ages. In Arab Jabour, the Concerned Citizens man checkpoints and provide security for schools, the water purification plant, and water pumps that fill the vital irrigation canals and supply water to the farmlands.
US soldiers and Concerned Citizens discuss a small cache of spent rockets and .50 caliber rounds. Click to view.
The Concerned Citizens in Arab Jabour work closely with US forces in the region. Weapons caches and IEDs are found and turned over to the 1/30 on a daily basis. Recently, the Concerned Citizens took control over a block of territory; they are now responsible for security.
The Concerned Citizens wear orange and yellow road-guards vests, and carry their own rifles. Most carry the ubiquitous AK-47, but other more antiquated weapons were seen in their hands. Like in Haswa and elsewhere throughout Multinational Division Central, the US is prohibited from arming the volunteers. "We absolutely cannot provide them weapons or ammunition," said Captain Eric Melloh, the company commander for Alpha Company during a joint patrol with Concerned Citizens near Patrol Base Murray. "Besides, they have everything they need."
US soldiers have accepted the Concerned Citizens in Arab Jabour, despite the very high likelihood that several were shooting them just several months ago. During a patrol, the soldiers gave up bottled water while the Concerned Citizens offered fruit. Cigarettes and jokes were exchanged. "I'll go home to Wal-Mart and get a bunch of those vests and hand them out," one soldier said, remarking on the ability of the Concerned Citizens to identify IEDs and provide security.
The 1/30 received a lucky break as it entered the Arab Jabour region that has increased its combat effectiveness. A local sheikh approached Adgie with an offer of assistance. The sheik suggested four of his most trusted men work directly with US forces as intelligence scouts to act as their eyes and ears. The men would live with US forces and leverage their extensive networks in the Arab Jabour region to provide real-time intelligence on al Qaeda cells operating in the region.
Adgie calls the Iraqi scouts the "Bird Dogs" and likens them to the Kit Carson scouts who operated with US forces in Vietnam. The Bird Dogs work their networks using cell phones, and occasionally slip back into the communities to gather on-the-ground intelligence. Two are described as being adept in reading satellite maps to identify the locations of homes or safe houses for al Qaeda fighters.
After walking in the battalion's operations center upon arriving with the 1/30, I witnessed the Bird Dogs in action. On September 21, al Qaeda in Iraq cells fired mortars and machineguns north of Patrol Base Murray. Adgie headed to the Bird Dogs' quarters, and when he arrived the scouts were already on the phone working their contacts. The launch site was identified, and Adgie headed back to the operations center and ordered his mortars to strike back. Some of the al Qaeda cell remnants were later spotted attempting to cross the Tigris River.
Adgie was clear that intelligence from the Bird Dogs cannot be used exclusively to drive operations or make arrests. "We cannot single source the intel," Adgie said after the mortar strike. The Bird Dogs' information must match intelligence gathered from the US Army.
The robust US presence, the cooperation of the Concerned Citizens, and the intelligence gathered via the Bird Dog network has resulted in increased security in large swaths of the Arab Jabour region. IED and small-arms attacks are down significantly. Al Qaeda's network is thought to be on the run in the areas where there is a US and Concerned Citizens presence. The 1/30 Battalion has captured eight of the top 10 most wanted al Qaeda leaders in the 3/2 Brigade's area of operations. US and Concerned Citizens forces detained 248 insurgent suspects, 155 remain in custody.
Mustaffa said he would like to extend the Concerned Citizens movement to areas where there is no US presence, but the conditions are not yet ripe to do so. The US forces and Iraqi have made significant progress in a little over three months, despite the lack of a US presence in the region the two years prior, but more time and effort are required to continue to improve security in the area.
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