Another great article by Matthew Cox

The good fight: Forging bonds in the community

This is about the Stryker troops that have been near the Syrian border since the middle of July. This area is, of course, where most of the action has been for the past month or so, which means we must have picked the right spots.

You really should go read the whole thing, but I’ll excerpt a couple bits for you:

During an Aug. 11 patrol, a 20-year-old Iraqi man tore up a coalition flier in the face of Capt. Mark Ivezaj, Bravo Company commander. U.S. forces have been handing out the single sheet of paper explaining why American and Iraqi forces are in Rawah and how residents can cooperate.

“Ask him why he thinks it’s OK to tear up our stuff in front of us!” Ivezaj shouts in a stern voice to his interpreter, while questioning the man. The young man’s demeanor changes quickly. Fear and a touch of regret spread across his face.

“I’m just a kid,” he replies through the interpreter.

Ivezaj orders his soldiers to detain him. The frustration is clear in his voice.

He tore it up “right in front of me and smiled about it,” he said, shaking his head. A few minutes later, Ivezaj turns the man over to nearby Iraqi forces for questioning.

Besides these Strykers, there are a lot of other US forces in the region attempting to choke off the flow of insurgents, terrorists, and weapons into Iraq. The Coalition forces have been joined by Iraqi troops, as well:

Since early August, about 500 Iraqi troops have arrived to set up a permanent presence inside this small city about 35 miles east of the border.

Those troops — the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Division of the Iraqi Intervention Force — are from a unit based to the southeast of Baghdad. They have fought in places such as Fallujah and other such hot spots.

“We’ve seen a lot of Iraqi army units, and we are lucky to be with this unit,” said Marine Corps Maj. Timothy Hiel of the Military Transition Team attached to the Iraqi unit. Such 10-man teams are designed to act as advisers to the Iraqis and to coordinate with other coalition forces.

This is the first Iraqi security force in the city since insurgents forced the local police to flee more than a year ago.

Obviously, full buy-in from the locals is crucial to long-term success. A meeting with local leaders was organized through the imam:

Ivezaj tried to assure them that the Iraqi military must also be part of that meeting. The imam’s son, Kuidamah, spoke up and told Ivezaj that the locals have no problem with the Americans; it’s the Iraqi military they are concerned about.

“The Iraqi forces should make the people trust them,” he said. “People trust the American soldiers more than the Iraqi forces.”

Other Iraqis have leveled similar complaints, detailing how Iraqi soldiers steal what they can during search operations.

“I’m not making any excuses for their actions,” Ivezaj said, asking for patience. “It’s up to us to teach them how to present themselves.

“At some point, the citizens of Rawah need to make a stand for themselves,” he said. “The days of living in fear are over. It’s a matter now of getting the citizens together, and with our help, make the terrorists live in fear.”

There’s a long way to go, but we’re on the right track.