Mosul, Iraq – New security checkpoints for vehicular traffic are being built around Mosul, Iraq, which will be staffed by a combination of Iraqi security forces in anticipation for national elections to be held March 6, 2010.

Prior to the new combined stations, drivers travelled through two checkpoints on their way in or out of Mosul, one operated by the Iraqi Army, and the other by the Kurdish Peshmerga. Now, it is hoped that a single checkpoint will improve security and cohesion between the two security forces. At these locations, vehicles entering and leaving the city will be inspected for weapons and explosive devices.

“James Johnson Check point centered”

“These checkpoints come from meetings held between the Iraqi Army and the Peshmerga, and will bring together the Iraqi Army, U.S. soldiers, Peshmerga, and the Iraqi Police,” said Iraqi Army Officer Lt. Ibrahim. “With the elections coming up, this is the best thing we can do [for security].”

The owner of a near-by gas station, Kareem, has mixed feelings about the presence of the new checkpoint. “About the security, yes, it is good,” he said. “About my business, maybe fifty-fifty. We will see.”

“james Johnson Check point 2 centered”

At least during construction, Kareem’s gas station sits idle while traffic is diverted, causing backups a mile deep along the busy highway. Another business, a produce stand, is forced to make a temporary move. The owner says he wasn’t consulted about the location of the checkpoint, or even given advance warning. That reality is shared by other businesses and residents in the area.

This creates a problem for Indiana National Guard’s 779th Engineer Battalion, operating under the guidance of the Hawaii-based 130th Engineer Brigade to complete the initial phase of the checkpoint construction. The local population is frustrated and angry at the disturbance in their communities. Although it was the Government of Iraq which decided where the checkpoints would be built, U.S. Forces have so far the most visible presence.

Depending on the weather, their part of the construction can be completed in as little as four days, according to Sgt. First Class Ben Joy.

The frustration toward U.S. Forces at this operation may be short lived. However, the checkpoints are sure to have an affect on the local political scene for a time to come.

Indeed, the location of the checkpoints is a political calculation. Each lies in the vicinity of the Riyadh line, a berm built by U.S. Forces in 2008, to force drivers to use roads that have checkpoints in order to enter or exit Mosul. The boundary is also seen as a line between traditionally Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga controlled areas.

But this boundary is not always black and white. The area around Checkpoint Four, where the gas station and produce stand owners make their living, is home to a minority Shia sect known as Shabak Muslims. This community of ethnic Kurds is too small to have any political clout, and is often overlooked by the Government of Iraq. The people here mostly align with Kurdish political parties, and business owners say that the positive security situation is because the Peshmerga has made it that way.

A Shabak landowner, through an interpreter, told U.S. Army officers that part of the land being used for Checkpoint Four was his, and that he had received no warning or compensation. He said he had planned on building a shop and restaurant on the land, but now that would be impossible. The man was told to take his concerns to the Iraqi Army or Government of Iraq, but he did not indicate any interest in that course of action.

An offer for partial compensation from the U.S. for land materials or a work contract was also rejected. “We don’t want your money,” the man said. “Just go, we don’t want your help.”

A mission of U.S. Forces in Iraq is to help the Government of Iraq provide security for their people, and show the Iraqi people they are friendly allies. That is made difficult when U.S. operations are the public face of unpopular Iraqi Government initiatives.

“We’ve been out here working for months trying to win the hearts and minds of the people,” a U.S. soldier commented. “There is a feeling that this is a step backwards.”

‘Photos and report by James Johnson, a Hawaii Reporter journalist embedded in Iraq. Reach him at mailto:jkenii@hotmail.com/’

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