BAGHDAD - Residents in the western Ameriya neighborhood took another step this week to secure their community, as a local recruiting drive resulted in more than 300 applicants for the new Ameriya Iraqi Police Force.

The recruits underwent a series of physical tests, mental evaluations and a literacy assessment. Successful completion certified them as qualified Iraqi Police candidates to represent more than 30,000 citizens of Ameriya.

To date, Ameriya does not have a police force to protect and serve residents like other communities in western Baghdad. Ameriya currently has both an Iraqi Army contingent as well as a battalion of U.S. Soldiers, the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, who manage security interests; however, no Ameriya resident is incorporated into either of these two security forces.

"Allowing residents to take a stake in providing their own security for their neighborhood will go a long way toward denying Al-Qaeda the ability to move back into Ameriya," said Maj. Chip Daniels, the operations officer for 1-5 Cavalry. "This is a good move on the part of the Iraqi government. The Iraqi Army did a fantastic job running this recruiting drive."

Recently, a group of concerned men from Ameriya bonded together to stand guard over their schools and homes and have since molded into an organized community watch force.

This group of men, called the Farsan Al Rafidayn (Arabic for "knights between the rivers") or FAR Volunteers, have significantly improved the security situation for the local residents by helping to push Al-Qaeda operatives out of their neighborhood and deterring criminal militia death squads from intimidating or harming Ameriya residents.

Daniels said even with this success, the FAR Volunteers have not enjoyed all the financial or long-term benefits of being full-fledged members of the Iraqi Security Forces. This week's recruiting drive went a long way, Daniels added, toward integrating the volunteers into the Iraqi government's plan for security by establishing a legitimate Iraqi Police force made up of Ameriya residents.