By Sgt. Angie Johnston,3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs, 25th Infantry DivisionApril 3, 2009
FORWARD OPERATING BASE BERNSTEIN, TUZ, Iraq - The Iraqi Army reconciled more than thirty people in the Salah ad-Din Province, March 31 with technological help from Soldiers from the Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
Through a process that guarantees a wanted man will not be arrested unless he is guilty of murder, shaykhs and other local leaders convinced friends and family who have warrants out for their arrests to come to FOB Bernstein in Tuz, 175km north of Baghdad, to reconcile their differences with the Government of Iraq.
"This reconciliation is a great opportunity for those people who are wanted but innocent; some are wanted for real crimes, but some of these men never did anything wrong," said Shaykh Sami Husayn Abdulla al-Bayati. Shaykh Sami is the tribal leader of the town of Muftul, about 14 miles from Tuz, and he brought several members of his tribe to FOB Bernstein to reconcile.
Sami widely publicized the reconciliation event before it took place by distributing flyers and passing the word on to everyone he knows. "My people are very happy and enthusiastic about this," he said. "They wanted to come here. All they have to do is give their name and have a photo taken and their name will be cleared."
Company A, Special Troops Battalion assisted the Iraqi Army with security and ran equipment to take biometric and fingerprint scans. Soldiers also scanned Iraqi identification cards and entered them into a database that the IA will keep for future use.
Spc. Charles Wagner of Fort Campbell, Ky., was busy all morning entering identification documents right alongside Iraqi Soldiers. "This just provides extra clarification of who they are and adds documentation to say they've come in and reconciled," said Wagner. "I can see that these guys are just trying to get on with their lives; what happened in the past, happened in the past."
Just across the walkway from Wagner, Pfc. Rodney Hewitt and his Iraqi Army counterparts administered retinal scans and took the fingerprints of each man who came through the reconciliation stations. Once collected, all the information was given to ISF authorities, and the men were released to their tribal leaders.
Shaykh Shokr Murshed Toama al-Bayati, who leads the people of the al-Thahab village, has attended five reconciliation events in the past. "We wish for this whole area to become peaceful again," said Shokr. "We don't want even one person left as 'wanted.' Then everyone can have a peaceful life in Iraq."
Shaykh Shokr was accompanied by a handful of wanted men from al-Thahab; each of them was able to reconcile with the GoI and released to go home to a fresh start. "This is like turning a new page for them - we've folded the old one over. We've overcome 90 - 95% of our problems already; this makes things even better in Salah ad-Din."
Some attendees of the reconciliation event were wanted for petty crimes such as theft. Others insisted they were falsely accused of crimes they never committed.
"I'm one of the people who was accused of being a terrorist, but it was for personal reasons," said Shaykh Salih Jassem Mohammad from Dibbaj. "Most people are here because of malicious gossip that went around several years ago. I have four wives and twenty sons and daughters - I would never take the risk of being a terrorist."
"It's all about tribal and family troubles," said Muthana Ahmed, a member of Shaykh Salih's tribe in Dibbaj. "I sat in jail for six months because no proof was required. All it took to send me to jail was someone saying I did something wrong."
The U.S. Army is working with the Government of Iraq in Salah ad Din to develop better forensics techniques and teaching them that solid physical evidence is an important part of gaining convictions in court.
Tim Lorenzen, a Law Enforcement Professional who works with the STB, has arranged for local police to attend specialized forensic training at Contingency Operating Base Speicher near Tikrit. Iraqi police are scheduled to learn the importance of crime scene photography, fingerprinting and accurate witness statements, as well as having the opportunity to train one-on-one with Lorenzen.
"People came to me to ask about this reconciliation," said Shaykh Salih. "I brought a lot of people. They were all comfortable because they see that coalition forces are working with the Iraqi Army. Everyone knows they (the Iraqi Army) can be trusted now."