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Iraqi Unit Sheds Old Taboos Through Civic Action in Kirkuk

Staff Sgt. Margaret C. Nelson Special to American Forces Press Service

Col. Malik Khder Ahmed Khochnow Photo by Staff Sgt. Margaret C. Nelson

KIRKUK — In Iraq’s former army, soldiers were not allowed to interface with civilians. Today, “it is our duty and responsibility to take care of our people and engage local, provincial government leadership, and non government organizations,” Maj. Zyad Junade Omar, 2nd Brigade, 4th Iraq Army Division’s Civil Affairs officer, said.

In his third year of conducting civil military operations, Zyad is one of the Iraqi army’s first full-time civil affairs officers. Civil affairs specialists identify schools, villages and neighborhoods that need assistance. They work closely with local and provincial government officials and nongovernmental organizations.

“We understand the importance of building relationships with our neighbors through civil affairs programs,” Zyad said.

Zyad also credits the 4th Division’s former commander, Lt. Gen. Anwar Hamad Amin, who is now the inspector general for the Ministry of Defense, for understanding the importance of civil military operations and giving the go-ahead for Zyad’s appointment as his unit’s first civil affairs officer.

Zyad appreciates the brigade’s support in creating a civil affairs program here. “I saw how our coalition forces conducted their CA programs and knew that was what we needed to do to help with building trust between the IA and the Iraqi people,” he said.

The 2-4 Brigade pays particular attention to spreading its good will fairly to the four ethnic groups here: Arab, Turkman, Kurd, and Christian.

The unity that the unit seeks between the diverse populations in Kirkuk is symbolized in the center of its guidon, the brigade’s distinct flag. Four hands are clasped in its center to acknowledge each group and are representative of the bonding that occurs between all who serve the new Iraq, the unit’s Command Sgt. Major Naser Abdel Hassen Gohi Alsealowi said.

“The 2-4 IA goes out and sees its neighbors, the people we serve. This is the best way to establish trust between both and a sense of security to everyone,” Zyad said.

Zyad also said he invites his coalition partners to participate with his civil affairs activities “to show the Iraqi children that the (Iraqi and coalition forces) are partners, working together for a better Iraq,” he said.

This is important to Zyad as some Arabic media portray coalition forces in a negative light, he said. He described a conversation with his son, Tarik, 6, who after watching an Arabic newscast, asked Zyad why he was working with the “bad coalition forces.”

“I told my son that the news was wrong, and then I took him to FOB Warrior where my U.S. friends showered him with candy and presents during a party they were having,” Zyad said.

Since then, his son corrects any misgivings other Iraqi children may have about the coalition presence here. “I thought it was important to invite the (coalition forces) to our schools and other projects we undertake in the community, so that the Iraqi people can see that the IA and CF are partners in the rebuilding of a new Iraq.” he said.

In December, unit members were invited to an Assyrian Christian school for a Christmas party. On a recent school visit, the 2-4 Iraqi Army Brigade brought presents and food in celebration of Iraqi Army Day, Jan. 7. Unit members visited Eshek – “the light” in Turkish - primary school. Students there range in age from six to 13 and mostly are of Turkish descent, although all of Iraq’s ethnic groups attend the school. Some of the brigade staff and “junud” - Iraqi soldiers - visited classrooms, speaking to the girls and boys and mingled among them in the school yard.

“We want to show them that their army supports them,” Col. Malik Khder Khder Ahmed Khochnow, commander of 2nd Brigade, 4th IA Division, said.

The unit also provided funds to help refurbish windows and provide locks for the school’s doors. They also paid an electrician to fix wiring problems.

“Whatever we can do for our children, we should do. We are helping to rebuild a better Iraq and a better future for our children,” Col. Tariq Wasah Fakhri, commander of the 2nd Brigade’s administrative department said.

Fakhri financed the majority of the work with his own money. “It is our duty,” he said.

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