- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2005

BAQOUBA, Iraq — In a counterinsurgent war, there are carrots and there are sticks.

Here in Diyala province, the carrot is a nearly $500 million investment in schools, health clinics, roads, sewage systems and electricity.

The stick is Col. Steven Salazar, 47, commander of “Task Force Sledgehammer,” the 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division.

Where other senior military officers lavish attention on local sheiks and work the imams, Col. Salazar leaves that to his battalion commanders.

In genial conversations with the province’s governor and chief of police, Col. Salazar lards his conversations with as many flowery compliments and “God willings” as anyone. He is patient and diplomatic with callers on his monthly radio appearance. But once convinced that diplomacy is not getting him anywhere, he abandons talk for action.

The sheik in Muqtadiya, a large town north of Baqouba, is learning what happens when he refuses a request from Col. Salazar.

The roads across the city — roads where U.S. and Iraqi forces and civilians drive — have endured a spate of roadside bombs, known as IEDs or improvised explosive devices, in military jargon.

A U.S. commander went to discuss the matter with Sheik Allawi.

“Sheik Allawi has the ability to manage this problem when he wants to,” Col. Salazar said.

The bombs did not stop, so Col. Salazar implemented a strategy he has used throughout his area of operations, the western half of Diyala, just north of Baghdad: shut down the road on which any roadside bomb is found for 24 to 48 hours. It is a matter of safety, but also one of spreading the pain.

If the local community is inconvenienced by a road closure, goes the theory, perhaps they will put pressure on the insurgents to stop.

“But we continued to have IEDs in Muqtadiya,” Col. Salazar said. “So we informed the sheik that whenever we find an IED we will eliminate every [obstacle and structure] within a 100 meters of the bomb.”

In this case, it means date palms and small roadside shacks from which people sell sodas and snacks. Next time it could be more substantial structures.

“It’s completely within our [rules of engagement]. Anything used by [insurgents and terrorists] can be taken away, from berms to old infrastructures, whatever … but this is really the first time we’ve used it. This is a little bit different,” Col. Salazar said.

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