WASHINGTON (AFPS, Nov. 15, 2007) - Crime has been slashed by 50 percent in an area just outside Baghdad, thanks to Iraqi citizens partnering with coalition Soldiers who live among them, a U.S. commander said.

"After seven months in the area of operation, the people know us, and they know who we are, and they know we're here to help," Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr. told online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call Nov. 6 from Iraq. "We do not drive or commute to work anymore. We live in the towns with the people that we are here to help."

Col. Grigsby commands 3rd Heavy "Sledgehammer" Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, which is on its third deployment to Iraq, this time patrolling the Madain Qada, an agrarian area southeast of Baghdad, as part of Multinational Division Center. Since they arrived in March, Hammer Soldiers have killed 113 insurgents and detained 364 others, including 15 "high value" targets, Col. Grigsby said.

"The people know that when someone crosses the line against 'the Hammer,' we will come down on them hard," he said. "They respect that; they see that; and they see that we are part of the solution."

So far, Col. Grigsby said, nearly 2,000 Iraqis, both Shiite and Sunni, have joined 17 concerned citizen groups in the Madain Qada.

"We do not discriminate along sectarian lines when hunting destabilizing elements or recruiting allies," Col. Grigsby said. "It is very important to us that we ensure that all those wanting to participate come in with the right motivations and are committed like we are to stabilizing the area."

With stability, the colonel explained, citizens of the Madain Qada can rebuild their lives and begin to thrive with assistance from a progressive local government.

"This is the grassroots government," Col. Grigsby said. "These Iraqis aren't waiting for the national government; they're acting locally, which we're seeing every day."

A provincial reconstruction team recently embedded with Sledgehammer Brigade to assist government, business and agricultural development, the colonel said. "With gradual gains in prosperity, we're expecting to see additional gains in security -- both positives providing a synergistic boost to the other."

Col. Grigsby said he has witnessed an amazing metamorphosis in Iraq's security forces between 2004, when he was chief of operations for 1st Infantry Division, which deployed to Tikrit in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and today.

"The Iraqi security forces have gotten exponentially better," he said. "They're incredible."

Col. Grigsby said his Soldiers increasingly partner with Iraqi police, including a combined operation today north of Narwan, a Shiite extremist foothold within the Madain Qada, and another in the region during which national police actually took the lead.

"We are doing it hand in hand right now." Col. Grigsby said. "We weren't having national police leading combat patrols and leading cordon searches four months ago. We weren't seeing that."

Seeds for success in the Madain Qada have been in place all along, Col. Grigsby explained. But without the surge of American forces this year to help cultivate those seeds, security and prosperity might never have sprouted.

"If you didn't have the Hammer Brigade, 3rd Brigade of the surge coming out to the Madain Qada, you wouldn't have the results you have here," he said. "With the brigade out here, we're seeing the results."

(David Mays works for American Forces Information Service.)