Helping Iraq: A Block-by-Block Battle

By Steele, Dennis | Army, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Helping Iraq: A Block-by-Block Battle


Steele, Dennis, Army


After each major tactical operation in Sadr City during the height of April's fighting, there was a cooling off period lasting a couple of days before U.S. soldiers returned to the streets to perform their focus mission, civilmilitary operations-basically the foul job of getting streets clean, sewers unclogged, electricity flowing and roads fixed to show the Iraqi people tangible positive results from the American presence.

When commanders assessed that neighborhoods were no more dangerous than usual during daylight, teams from Task Force (TF) Ironhorse (the 1st Brigade Combat Team [BCT], 1st Cavalry Division) and TF Lancer (2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment), which had direct responsibility for Sadr City, started inching projects forward to improve life there.

"Those projects now are our shaping operations," said Lt. Col. Gary Volesky, the TF Lancer commander. "But I want to get our decisive operations moving in that direction."

The premise is simple: the more people who earn a living from positive work and the better life gets, the less fighting will occur.

"The whole context of providing security is linked to providing basic services," said Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the 1st Cavalry Division commanding general.

Before the division left its home base, Fort Hood, Texas, soldiers in key positions received training and advice from city administrators who professionally provide such services. They worked with city administrators in Austin to learn the basics of everything from garbage collection to setting up polling places for elections.

"We knew we weren't going to create Austin in Baghdad," Gen. Chiarelli explained, "but we tried to learn the key things that we needed to understand."

A lot of effort went into preparing 1st Cavalry soldiers for the stability and security operations they would undertake in Iraq. Besides working with civil administrators, some soldiers attended a course at the Jordanian Peacekeeping Institute to prepare them for the mission, returning to train others. Senior leaders received advanced training in the United Kingdom.

The problem the division faced when it took responsibility for Baghdad was finding the money to put that training into practice. An emphasis on high-dollar capital projects, with long lead times, practically choked off funding for neighborhood-level work.

Little of the more than $18 billion that the United States allocated to rebuilding Iraq had trickled down to Baghdad's neighborhood projects under the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The CPA administered Iraq until the sovereignty handover June 28. U.S. interests in Iraq now are handled by an embassy staff, and secretary of State Colin Powell recently returned from a visit to Baghdad, calling for reallocation of capital project funds to move small local projects ahead, something that commanders had called for all along.

Even if funding improves, American soldiers must still overcome an array of problems in order to deliver a better Iraq to its people. In Sadr City, the problems are immense. Sheer population density is one major factor, joining seething poverty, widespread ignorance and growing unrest. …

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