BAGHDAD - Lt. Col. Dave Bair, commander, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, met with a local Sons of Iraq (SoI) leader at Joint Security Station Zubaida to discuss their continuing support of security improvements in the East Rashid district of Baghdad, March 12.

The meeting served as an opportunity for Bair and Mr. Mustat, the SoI leader in East Rashid, to discuss sustaining security gains in the area and the SoI's continuing fight against the movement of explosives and arms into the Rashid District of Baghdad through a series of checkpoints within the area. Bair's unit, attached to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad, works closely with Iraqi Security Forces and the SoIs in the area.

"Security is not something the Iraqi Army can control by themselves," said Mustat during the meeting. "It's the responsibility of the Iraqi citizens to keep their homes safe."

The SoI played a significant role in improving and maintaining security throughout Baghdad. At the height of sectarian violence, Iraqi citizens formed organizations similar to neighborhood watch programs to protect the members of their neighborhoods from the sectarian violence.

MND-B took this grassroots effort and incorporated it into the SoI program. The members manned check points and patrolled streets. At its peak, the SoI program had over 50,000 members providing security throughout neighborhoods in Baghdad.

In a recent interview with al-Iraqiya television, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi commented on the improved security situation in Baghdad and the role the SoI security members contributed.

"Thanks to the distinguished efforts of the [Sons of Iraq security] forces and the Armed Forces, the security situation in [Baghdad] has become excellent. There are no excuses for not preparing a road map to improve municipal and other services in the area," said al-Hashimi.

From January 2008 to January 2009, MND-B reported an 80 percent decrease in overall attacks within Baghdad. Attacks decreased from an average of nine per day to an average of two per day in the 12-month period.

Staff Sgt. Brandon Holland, of Ferguson, N.C., who previously deployed to the Rashid area during 2006-2007, attested to the changes he has seen during his current tour. As a section sniper leader at a time when sectarian violence was ripping apart Baghdad on a daily basis, attacks during July 2007 averaged 37 per day.

"Things were really bad, AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) and other terrorists were everywhere," said Holland, who was present during the meeting. "There is a lot less violence in the area now that the SoI, NP (National Police), IA (Iraqi Army), presence has increased."

Today, life is returning to a sense of normalcy in the area. The security environment has improved and stabilized. The quality of life has improved and merchants in the Doura market have returned to sell their goods. The Soldiers of the 1-505th and the SoI members remain committed to sustaining the security improvements, said Bair.

The SoI members have played an integral part of the improved security situation in Baghdad. However, the Government of Iraq is transitioning the members to other training and employment opportunities. Since October 1, 2008 the GoI has assumed responsibility for the SoI. They are in the lead for their operations, payment and transitioning to other work such as the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi Security Forces, the Iraqi Police or vocational and technical training.

The GoI and MND-B Soldiers continue working together to ensure a smooth and timely transition of the SoI members into other employment without a degradation of security in the area. The Iraqi Army and Iraqi National Police have dramatically improved in size and capability in taking the lead in providing security to the Rashid area, according to Bair.

"We have a high respect for the part that the SoI have played in the security of the Rashid area," said Bair. "I plan to come back in ten years and visit to see how safe it is in Iraq."