By Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAOApril 2, 2009
BAGHDAD - Dogs bark and children play in the trash-littered streets before going to school in a neighborhood in eastern Baghdad just like any other morning. Pungent odors from the street mix with sweet smells of flatbread cooking in wood-fire ovens. Iraqis go about their daily routine but this isn't any ordinary muhalla, or neighborhood.
"We got tips that there were weapons caches in the muhalla," said Fayetteville, N.C. native Capt. Ken Cosgriff, commander of the Battery B "Bulls," 1st Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment. "Our mission was to establish a cordon rapidly, clear the area and confirm or deny if caches were in the muhalla."
Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles and blue Ford pick-up trucks belonging to Iraqi police arrived on the outskirts of the neighborhood for Operation Bull Chisel, an Iraqi National Police run cordon and clearing mission, in Zafaraniyah. The mission here March 30, was to take weapons off the streets and make the community safer.
More than 70 Soldiers from Battery B and 60 National Policemen from 3rd Bn., 2nd Brigade, 1st National Police Division, used Iraqi and U.S. vehicles to cordon off and sweep a neighborhood for explosives and weapons caches.
Though no explosives were found, 21 AK-47 assault rifles were confiscated during the sweep. Under Iraqi law, households or business may keep one registered weapon for self defense.
"Getting 21 weapons off the street, in general, makes the muhalla safer," added Cosgriff. Most of the residents hand over their weapons when asked by the NPs.
"The NPs are very proactive about giving memorandums that state, 'we didn't destroy anything,'" said Cosgriff. "They also document whatever is taken and the owners of the house sign a document."
The document is proof that any weapons confiscated can be reclaimed through the right government process and gives people more trust in the NPs and U.S. Soldiers.
"They are friendly toward us because the NPs would explain, 'these are Americans and they are going to search your home with us,'" explained Spc. Michael Ingles, a cannon crewmember assigned to Btry. B, 1st Bn., 319th AFAR. "They are really willing to work with us and not so much against us," he added.
Though some Iraqis' lives were inconvenienced for a few minutes, the overwhelming feeling in the community was of understanding, said 2nd Lt. Asaad Atshan Mejafiy, an NP motor pool officer who assisted in the operation.
"We collected a lot of weapons to let people know that we're here to serve them and to keep them safe," said Asaad. "It's like we are more and more professional and the people are more cooperative and give more trust."
Cosgriff added that the more trust that the NPs and Coalition forces build, the easier it is to make the community safer with operations like this.
"I think the NPs go about their business the right way," said Cosgriff. "They are respectful and not kicking in doors."
This is important in an environment where a simple "thank you" can help shape future relationships.
"They're willing to understand what we're here to do," said Spc. Michael Ingles, a Btry. B cannon crew member from Royce City, Texas. "For the community it's a good thing. We seize these AK-47s, but they are going to get them back, yet this time they're going to be registered."
Getting weapons registered in the neighborhood is a big concern for the CF and also brings relief for the members in the community.
"They also don't have to worry about having an unregistered weapon in their homes for safety, because now the weapons will be legally registered," said Ingles.
After hundreds of homes were searched and hours spent securing the neighborhood, the NPs and Bravo Bulls called it a day.
"Overall it was a successful mission," stated an exhausted Ingles. "We did what we went there to do and completed it."
When the mission was finished, the muhalla had a few less weapons and was safer. Yet, it also had a stronger foundation of trust built on respect and a few simple words of gratitude.