Iraq's Neighborhood Watch Program

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IRAQ - Most experts agree that the troop surge and related moves in Iraq has resulted in remarkable change.CBN News went to the front-lines for a first hand look at the progress.

Click on the video player for a look.

More Than a Surge

What's come to be known as "the surge" in Iraq represents more than just boosting U.S. forces in the region. In the past eleven months, Gen. David Petraeus pushed forward a completely new set of tactics creating tremendous momentum in this war.

One of the most effective moves has been forming concerned local citizens' groups - what you might call an Iraqi "neighborhood watch" program.

One rooftop 12 miles south of Baghdad represents the bleeding edge of progress here in Iraq. Only 24 hours ago, this was al-Qaeda country, until an air assault raid by the third infantry division took over the area and established a checkpoint.

But it wont' be manned long-term by Americans.

That's because a brave group of Iraqi men belonging to the concerned local citizens' movement, will be watching this area to make sure al-Qaeda doesn't come back, and progress can continue.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the commander of the third infantry division, can't say enough about their contributions.

"They're manning checkpoints, they are turning in weapons caches, they're turning in IED's, they're showing us where there's a problem with extremists in their areas, and most importantly they're securing their local area," Lynch said.

From Foe to Ally

Many of these Iraqi men used to be opposed to the U.S. presence here. So what changed their minds? One big reason is money.

Each man who agrees to take part in securing his neighborhood is paid about $300 a month. Then, extra money is paid to anyone turning in weapons or explosives that could be used against U.S. forces.

The new plan has been instrumental in reducing the number of attacks against U.S. forces.

If this arrangement seems expensive, consider this: Taking 2,000 potential IED's off the street costs about the same as one soldier's life insurance settlement.

Another success has been the establishment of a constant military presence in areas that were known to harbor insurgents.

"We don't commute to work anymore," Lynch explains. "In previous times, we operated off of large forward operating bases. We went out and did operations and then we came back to the large bases. The local citizens who helped the coalition during those operations…were subjected to intimidation when we left."

Establishing more than 40 bases in the greater Baghdad area also serves as proof that the U.S. won't abandon Iraqis. Chaplain Darren Turner lives on one of these bases.

"When it comes down to it, they want peace," Turner said. "And they thought we were the bad guys for awhile, but now they're finally beginning to see that we're here because we want to help them, and when we help them it means we get to go home sooner."

The Awakening

The biggest catalyst behind this local movement, however, came from the Iraqis themselves.

It started in what became known as "the Awakening" in Ramadi, led by a powerful sheikh named Abdul Sattar.

He organized local citizens tired of the brutality demonstrated by al-Qaeda. They soon learned that when coalition forces would come to town, the violence quickly dissipated.

Sadly, terrorists murdered Sattar last September. But his killing has appeared to further the cause.

One example is this Baghdad suburb known as Jerf a Sukh'r. Sixty days ago, this was one of the most violent parts of the city. But when one local sheik saw 13 of his own family members murdered by al-Qaeda, he took action.

He started a concerned local citizen organization that turned in the insurgents to American forces and established checkpoints to curb the violence.

Today, the market is open and children play in the streets without fear. In this way, American forces are gaining the upper hand - not through high-tech weaponry and awesome firepower - but with compassion and kindness.

And although the leaders on the ground admit that there is still much work to be done, they also say that the future in Iraq has never been brighter.

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Chuck Holton

Chuck Holton

CBN News Reporter

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