SHAIBA AIRBASE, BASRA, Iraq --
The security environment here has improved dramatically since the 1st Iraqi Army Quick Reaction Force fought their way into the city.
Criminal elements of the Jaysh al-Mahdi had taken over parts of the city from local Iraqi security forces and imposed their own rule on a city that had once been a cultural and commercial beacon for all of Iraq.
"This city was being held hostage by a small group of criminal militias," said Col. Robert F. Castellvi, 1st IA (QRF) MiTT senior adviser.
Music and western influence were prohibited, women faced death threats if they ventured outside their homes dressed in anything other than a full burkah and intersections were used as mortar positions.
In less than a month, life in Basra couldn’t be more different. The 1st IA (QRF) continues to pursue criminals and outlaws through Basra’s neighborhoods, but as Quick Reaction Force 1, formerly 1st Brigade, moves through neighborhoods like al-Jumhuriya, the sound of gunfire is no longer common.
"The people are happier now," said Maj. Robert S. Washington, 2nd Battalion, QRF-1 military transition team senior adviser. "They can go out, they can go to the markets."
Stores opened early in the morning as the soldiers cleared houses next door, looking for weapons, improvised explosive devices and wanted criminals. Kids walked to school past Iraqi Army humvees and posed for pictures with the soldiers.
During operations in al-Jumhuriya alone, local citizens volunteered information that led to the arrest of nearly ten suspected local gang members and the discovery of illegal weapons and improvised explosive devices.
"[The Iraqi soldiers] are getting a lot of their information by going out and talking to the local civilians," said 2ndLt Matthew S. Weant, 2nd Bn., QRF-1 staff intelligence adviser. "We’ve had people lead us directly to weapons caches and IEDs; even bringing them to us."
There is surely more to be done in Basra. With the criminals gone, the Government of Iraq and Coalition Forces are working together with local leaders to address issues with sanitation, infrastructure and economy that will provide long-lasting improvements to the quality of life for local residents.
Recently, local officials opened an open-air market in the neighborhood of al-Jameat in an effort to boost the local economy.
Local Iraqi security forces continue to hold the ground taken by the 1st IA (QRF) to guard against a possible resurgence of the criminals. But, boosted by the confidence of success, they are ready for whatever may happen.