Spc. Chris McCann
2nd BCT PAO, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI)
MUSTAFAR, Iraq— Despite the much-publicized instability in Iraq, in the village of Mustafar, south of Baghdad, the villagers are fighting back – and winning – against not only terror, but the instability itself.
Soldiers of Troop C, 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI), arranged a town meeting in the village of Mustafar, Iraq on Dec. 29 which was attended by many of the village residents and aimed to improve the town’s security and participation in local government.
Village leaders said that the relocation of an Iraqi Police checkpoint, which had been on the only road into town and was recently moved to about three kilometers away, has given terrorists more opportunity to enter the village.
Lt. Col. Mark Suich, of Greenville, Penn., commander of the squadron, said he understood that the relocation had negatively impacted the village, but acknowledged that the checkpoint’s location was beyond his control. He added that he had been amazed and pleased to hear of the townspeople’s defense of their homes, in which their neighborhood watch killed two terrorists who entered the town and wounded a third.
“No other village in Iraq has done this,” Suich told the villagers. “You should be very proud of yourselves.”
Suich, Capt. Adam Sawyer, the commander of Trp. C, and native of Reading, Penn., and other Soldiers led the meeting, which focused largely on the people’s hope of founding a local police force to protect them. Ten residents of Mustafar have police experience and are willing to put it to use after background checks by coalition forces to ensure that they will aid the village and not the terrorists.
Temporarily, Suich said, he can increase U.S. patrols in the town until the local police force is established.
Several of the townspeople also suggested closing off the smaller access paths to the town and requested help from the squadron in placing concrete barriers and concertina wire to discourage entry.
Hamad Hussein Abbas, a Mustafar resident, volunteered to show 1-89 patrols which routes to block.
They also requested that the U.S. Soldiers decide with them on a signal to use at night, so that villagers conducting patrols of the town know the vehicles are friendly.
The conversation often turned back to the now-abandoned checkpoint that sits at the beginning of the road into town, and one of the village elders asked if they could staff it themselves.
Suich said that the idea was very feasible, as long as U.S. and Iraqi Army units in the area are aware that the checkpoint is being manned and that there is an official document in the checkpoint explaining the situation.
“We don’t have many bullets,” one man mentioned. Another suggested that the Iraqi army might be able to provide ammunition. Suich and Sawyer said that they would look into the possibility.
The 1-89 Soldiers emphasized that the Mustafar residents have every right to defend themselves against terror – up to and including use of deadly force against anti-Iraqi forces.
“We will do our best,” Sawyer said. “We will come as quick as we can if there are issues. If someone is injured in a fight, call us, and any patrol in the area can help you.”
Sawyer also called on the townspeople to become involved in the Rashid area nahia council despite their fears of violence on the way there or at the meeting.
“We will secure you on the trips to and from the nahia,” he said. “If we need to set up an ambush, we will.”
“It will take the same kind of courage it took to defend this town,” he said. “You must rise up and go.”
The meeting was very productive, Suich said.
“We always learn something,” he said of the meetings, held every six to eight weeks. “Security took a step back with the removal of the checkpoint. Some anti-Iraqi forces tried to come in with guns, and the people shot up the AIF and their car. The next night, the townspeople did it again.”
With a local police force, the security would improve, he added.
“They’ll be able to secure themselves all the time. There are ten former police officers that live here. We want to vet and reinstate them.”
Despite their fear of going to the nahia, Suich said he thinks the idea is making headway.
“I think they’ll go this time,” he said.
The village is one of the best in the area, said Sawyer. There is no main power broker, making everything a community effort, and despite sectarian tensions all around, the Sunni, Shia and Christians that live in Mustafar coexist peacefully.
The people are working with 1-89 to get regular trash pick-up from the dumpsters brought in by the squadron; they are negotiating to get the main road through the city paved and they are actively working with coalition forces to keep the Mahdi militia from fulfilling their alleged plan to open a base on the outskirts of town.
“This is our model village,” Sawyer said.