- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

CAMP ENDURANCE, Iraq — U.S. and Iraqi army officers in the critical region around the contested northern city of Mosul are pleading — with some success — for information from local leaders on insurgents and terrorists operating in the area.

“We need your help,” Brig. Gen. Ali Malooh, commander of the Iraqi army’s 102nd Battalion, said in Arabic to more than 200 tribal sheiks and religious leaders gathered Saturday at this U.S. base near the town of Qayyarah, a few miles south of Mosul.

Just three Iraqi battalions of about 500 men apiece, reinforced by 300 Americans and a handful of coalition soldiers, patrol several thousand square miles of rugged territory containing major supply routes, sulfur and cement plants, and an important oil refinery in Qayyarah.

Meanwhile, the day-to-day battle across Iraq against insurgents, terrorists and kidnappers continued.

Al Jazeera satellite channel yesterday aired a tape that purported to show three Romanian journalists kidnapped in Iraq and a fourth unidentified person, apparently an American. The station said the four were held by an unidentified militant group and that no demands were made.

The State Department said a U.S. citizen was taken hostage with three Romanians. However, the department gave no further information.

Private Romanian television station Realitatea TV reported that an Iraqi-American who worked as the journalists’ translator was the fourth person kidnapped.

In southern Iraq, attackers opened fire on Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims making their way to a major religious festival, killing one person and fueling fears that terrorists may target the gathering that draws hundreds of thousands of people every year.

Although the Iraqi army and elements of the Washington state-based 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, have managed to prevent major attacks locally since the Jan. 30 elections, their success depends on residents’ cooperation, said Capt. Mike Yea, 29, from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment.

His unit has been deployed at Camp Endurance since August.

“We rely heavily on town leaders to find out about terrorist activities,” Capt. Yea said, adding that his unit has had particular success acting upon local tips in As Shura, a town that recently had a reputation as an insurgent haven.

Now, U.S. forces at As Shura get as many as six tips per night, said 1st Sgt. Darren Kinder, 40, from the Delta Company, 52nd Infantry.

Sgt. Kinder’s unit, attached to the 2nd Battalion, maintains round-the-clock presence at an outpost downtown.

“Some tips pay off, some don’t,” Sgt. Kinder said. “We’ve asked the local populace to step up, and they’ve been responding fairly well.”

But Gen. Malooh, who has been the target of several assassination attempts, said local residents must do more.

He said he wants to reinforce his units, better secure vital roads and round up known insurgents so that stalled reconstruction projects can continue.

Lt. Col. Bradley Becker, commander of U.S. forces here, said some projects already are under way.

“I promised that as security improved, we would focus on improving quality of life in the villages.”

Col. Becker said his troops recently have overseen water projects, installation of new power lines and the addition of four large generators to the area’s inadequate power grid.

He said six more generators will follow.

Electricity is high on locals’ wish lists. “We need help, especially with electricity,” Sheik Khamis Hayawi Asadiyah of Al Hadra said through a translator.

To make improvements to the electrical grid possible, Sheik Asadiyah said, his tribe will “find [insurgents] and get rid of them.”

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