Tarmiyah opens its eyes to a new awakening
By Spc. John W. Crosby, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office
Oct 2, 2007 - 3:22:46 PM
Blackanthem Military News
TARMIYAH, Iraq – The Iraqi word sahwah means to wake up from sleep or to have a psychological awakening, and a sahwah or awakening of minds is currently taking place in Tarmiyah, Iraq, where tribal leaders and local residents have made the decision to stand up and fight terrorism.
Earlier this month, Iraqi Army soldiers and Soldiers from 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis, Wash., began a joint effort to clear the city of al-Qaida.
Formerly a violent city and terrorist haven, Tarmiyah is now quickly becoming a place of peace and prosperity.
Tarmiyah was a stronghold for financing, planning, preparation and communications in support of al-Qaida. Kidnapping, ransom, extortion and murder against Tarmiyah residents funded the insurgent operations, said Lt. Col. William Prior, 4-9 IN commander.
The local Iraqi Police force was disbanded after the insurgents threatened to kill policemen and their families.
"Al-Qaida was the strongest dominating authority in Tarmiyah for a long time," said Iamad Said Jasim, head of the Tarmiyah tribal council, through on interpreter. "Even though they aren't an authority, members of rival groups and organizations were executed. They killed indiscriminately with no real consideration or mercy for the elderly, women or children."
Jasim said al-Qaida executed Iraqi citizens accused of spying for coalition forces and also those accused of apostasy, or turning away from their extremist religious beliefs. There are very few Shiites in Tarmiyah, and Al-Qaida – which is a Sunni organization – would pull men out of their cars, accuse them of being Shiite and execute them in the street.
Jasim himself lost two brothers to the insurgents and his home was twice hit by mortar rounds. Still he stands up proudly against the terrorist threat and has asked that his fellow Tarmiyah residents do the same.
The coalition forces' strategy to reclaim the city included the initial use of overwhelming combat power to kill or capture all ranks of terrorists who operated in and around the city, and to encourage Iraqi people to stand up and provide their own security.
This effort, dubbed Operation Headhunter, began Sept. 7. 4-9 Infantry along with the 4th Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division searched and cleared over 20 tactical objectives around the city within the first two days of the operation. The successful operation set the stage for the awakening to occur.
"4-9's entrance into Tarmiyah has gladdened the peoples' hearts," Jasim said. "We feel safer now that they are here."
Jasim and other tribal leaders of Tarmiyah held a sahwah awakening ceremony Sept. 12. They publicly recognized and denounced terrorist activity and called for volunteers to step forward to protect their families and homes. This volunteer force, known as the Critical Infrastructure Security Contract Force, is now providing jobs, security and a sense of accomplishment to the people of Tarmiyah.
Volunteers are processed by coalition and Iraqi Army forces at a joint checkpoint on the east side of the city, an area used just weeks prior as an execution point by al-Qaida.
"We are not a people of terrorism, violence or hate," Jasim said. "The original families of Tarmiyah have always been against these horrible activities. We needed a security apparatus badly. The streets were very dangerous. We also needed jobs. Men couldn't even make enough money to buy bread to feed their families."
Prior said they expected maybe 50 volunteers, but the volunteer lines ran out the door and around the corner. Hundreds of men answered the awakening call. Many Tarmiyah residents stood in line for more than five hours, not leaving to eat, drink or relieve themselves for fear of losing their place in line. The doors were closed after 500 men were processed.
On the second day, the turn out was similar. Men lined up around the corner, all wanting to do their part. The doors were closed after 700 men were processed, putting the total number of volunteers at 1,200.
Five days after Operation Headhunter began clearing the city of al-Qaida, the Iraqi people saw the changes and were eager to join the effort.
"We are very happy and very proud about the turn out," Jasim said. "This proves the people are supporting their tribes and their leaders. It proves we are against the terrorists because we volunteer despite their previous threats against this kind of thing."
Prior said the men volunteered because of popular resentment among the Iraqi people toward insurgents. The Tarmiyah residents want a decent way of life with schools, running water, electricity and a stable economy – the things essential to survival. The local tribal leaders' influence and approval early in the operation was also a reason for the large turnout, Prior said.
The message to al-Qaida operating in the area is that they should not only fear U.S. and Iraqi soldiers, but they should also be fearful of the Iraqi people themselves.
"We will take the fight to them," Prior said "But they should be more afraid of the people because when the people decide to step up, (the insurgents) will have no where to run or hide. Terrorists fear a people who will not cower to them."
The Iraqi volunteers were given blue or yellow reflective belts to distinguish them as the newly appointed security force. The Iraqi Army armed the volunteers with AK-47s, and they were immediately put to work. The volunteer security force now mans checkpoints along with U.S. and Iraqi Army soldiers. They also provide security for local leaders and stand guard at the Tarmiyah market.
Prior said volunteers continue to be processed, putting more Security Contract Force personnel to work where they are needed. Many of the volunteers are already trained Iraqi police that were forced into hiding by al-Qaida. The goal is to integrate them back into a fully-accepted police force recognized by the people and government of Iraq.
"The change in the last two weeks is remarkable," said 1st Lt. Michael Bennett, third platoon leader of Company C, 4-9 Inf. "The people wave and talk to us now. It used to be that when we walked up the streets, the shops would close on us. Al-Qaida would enforce strict fundamentalist Muslim laws. No smoking, no alcohol and forbade them from talking to us. And they didn't.
"The other night we were on the street out here and a group of men walked right up to us," Bennett continued. "Before the people would vanish after sunset. They came right through the gate and offered us information. It was unreal."
Bennett said he believes the people of Tarmiyah realize and understand that coalition forces are there to help them. Al-Qaida's goal was to control and dominate the city through terror, and Bennett believes the people see that is not the coalition forces' plan for Tarmiyah.
"Before we couldn't patrol the street for more than ten or 15 minutes without getting shot at," he said. "Today we walked the market for over two hours without any problems. I think that shows clear, distinctive progress in how things are going."
Three 4-9 Soldiers were killed and many more were wounded in action in Tarmiyah before the Awakening.
"The level of violence is way down," Prior said. "There have been a few IEDs, but a big difference in comparison to the daily violence of before. More importantly the attitude of the people and their participation has changed."
Prior said credit for the initial success goes to the Iraqi and U.S. soldiers.
"The Iraqi army has many quality men who are both patriots and great soldiers," he said. "Coalition forces and Iraqi Army did a great job in using controlled violence and expressing respect and restraint when required, which is essential to the mission for the Iraqi people."
Jasim said his people want an honorable and peaceful life. He hopes for a future where they can provide decent livings for their families while his people maintain their own security forces.
Prior said they are still early in the process of reclaiming the city. The hardest part will be for the Iraqi people to overcome their justified fears of terrorist organizations and to sustain peace and security in the area. The peoples' attitude and behavior will be the deciding factor in preventing the terrorists from returning.
"The success is not measured in how many bad guys were killed or captured, Prior said. "Success will be measured in how the people react now that they're gone."
The battle is now psychological, political and economic more than military. Now it's up to the Tarmiyah citizens, and as the awakening indicates, they are well on their way to a peaceful and secure future.