13 June 2008

The "Neighborhood Guard" of Sadr City

Young men dance and chant, waving their certificates at the end of a brief graduation ceremony for the newly formed “Neighborhood Guard” on Wednesday at the U.S. Army’s Forward Operating Base War Eagle. More than 50 men from Jamilla graduated from a three-day training course for the program, which is similar to the “Sons of Iraq.” Photo: Ben Bloker / S&S.

Meet the latest group of "Citizen Soldiers" in Iraq.

In the coming weeks, hundreds more residents will be cycling through FOB War Eagle to get trained up for guarding checkpoints throughout the Jamilla district, which is south of the new security wall that cuts across Sadr City.

"These guys are all from the neighborhood they’re protecting. It’s their neighborhood. It’s their home," said Capt. Aaron Newcomer, commander of Company A, Task Force 1-6 Infantry, which operates in the area.

Members of the "Neighborhood Guard" earn about $300 a month, a solid income in northeastern Baghdad. Their job is to man checkpoints and keep an eye out for outsiders and troublemakers. U.S. officials distributed several dozen seized assault rifles to group members who did not have their own weapons.

The initiative is similar to the "Sons of Iraq" program, which commanders say has helped secure numerous communities across Iraq. ...

Just before they received their certificates, some of the men talked about their motives for joining the "Neighborhood Guard."

"If I see anybody who wants to put a bomb in my street, I will kill him," boasted one of the young men.

Alia Krem Gerfer, a 25-year-old mechanic, was more reflective. He says people are tired of all the killing and want change.

"I want to move freely in my city," he said.

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