ISKANDARIYAH, Iraq - The people of Jurf as Sakhr have been living in a nightmare of sectarian violence being waged between al-Qaida fighters and Jaysh al-Mahdi militants for more than a year.

With help from concerned citizens, who are fed up with the violence, and paratroopers from 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, the reign of terror and oppression is ending. Ongoing operations are paving the way to safety, security and a better way of life.

The area of Jurf as Sakhr, a small agricultural community nestled near the Euphrates River, has been the site of more than 400 attacks against citizens and security forces in the region. Attacks include ambushes, machine-gun fire, car and truck bombs as well as the militant's weapon of choice, roadside bombs.

When local civilians began standing up for themselves in the area, they asked for the help of local security forces to drive out the militants and take back their homes and land.

Operation Gecko was the answer to the citizens' call for help. The operation began systematically cleaning up the area, removing deadly roadside bombs and arresting the terrorists and militiamen responsible for the violence and chaos that blanketed the city.

"This operation was conducted because the people in the area were tired of living in fear of Al Qaeda and Jaysh al-Mahdi," said B Company commander Capt. Charles Canon, of Anchorage. "We started meeting with the local sheiks of the area and they wanted to be a part of the concerned citizens program and help clear the area of the militants."

Operation Gecko was broken down into three phases focusing on clearing a section of Jurf as Sakhr, and encompassed more than 12 square miles of land to be searched and secured.

During the operation, the Concerned Citizens Program in Jurf as Sakhr has employed nearly 200 people and has 10 checkpoints manned by local residents.

The Iraqi Security Forces and local civilians handed out some 125,000 leaflets encouraging residents to help the Concerned Citizens Program and ISF keep peace.

While the operation is still under way, Canon said the first phase was a huge success. The citizens are helping security forces find and destroy roadside bombs and other weapons. They are pointing out safe houses and pointing out terrorists and militiamen.

"It was good to see the citizens out helping protect their neighborhood," Canon said. "They know that we cannot be here forever so they realized that (it) is time to cooperate."