Friday, August 24, 2007

Residents examine homes lost years ago to terrorists

Sgt. Chris McCann
2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) PAO

LUTIFIYAH, Iraq — A home should be a sanctuary – even in Iraq. But under Saddam Hussein’s regime, homes could be seized or invaded, and since Saddam’s fall, Shia and Sunni extremists have forcibly taken over one another’s homes in efforts to seize religious and political control over these areas.
Now, homes seized years ago are being given back to the owners, through coalition and Iraqi forces’ help.
Capt. Aaron Bright, a native of Austin, Texas, and the commander of Battery B, 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) out of Fort Drum, N.Y., helped facilitate the return of 40 men from the Shaka district, west of Lutifiyah, Iraq Aug. 18 to assess damage done over the years their homes were in the hands of al-Qaeda fighters.
The Shaka district was long held by Sunni extremists, who took over homes and removed Shia residents either forcibly, at gun point or by pressuring them to leave through treats and intimidation, said Bright. 2-15 and the 1st Battalion, 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, however, have been building battle positions in the Shaka area for the last month, and the al-Qaeda-allied fighters have left – pressured out by air assaults and roundups of terror suspects.
“The point of the mission today is getting people back here to assess their homes,” said Bright. “Many of them were a little wary about coming back, but they should see that it’s very secure with all the checkpoints here now.”
The people were not moving in yet; the mission was only to check on the condition of the houses. Nonetheless, soldiers agreed, it was a good start.
“Today is a celebration for Lutifiyah,” said Nakib Foras, intelligence officer for the 1st Battalion, 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division. “Most of the people in this area lost their families and houses, and they’re coming back because of the work of the Iraqi and American armies.”
Col. Khalet, the 1-4-6 IA executive officer, explained that the battalion now controls the area and will not let terrorists return.
“We will insist that al-Qaeda elements not return,” he said, smiling. “That’s our job – to make everyone safe, regardless of sect.”
He also mentioned that the battalion has more than 100 vehicles and will assist the homeowners with transportation when the families are done with repairs and are ready to move back in.
Kham Jabar Ali, a homeowner, came back from checking his house looking a little dejected.
“It’s destroyed – they stole all our belongings, ruined everything,” he said. “All the vehicles are gone; my father was kidnapped.”
Ali said he left a year and a half ago, when his cousin and uncle were murdered and their bodies dumped in the canal behind the house.
Despite the destruction, however, there was hope.
“I’m very happy to go back,” said Ali. “God willing, we can start over again.”

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