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Iraq operations.

AT the year's start, 10th Mountain Division Soldiers working south of Baghdad knew their area of operations as the "triangle of death."

It was a moniker forged years earlier from horrific attacks and bloody battles with the enemy.

As the year drew to a close, Lt. Col. Mike Infanti, commander of the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team's 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, had a different description of the region.

"It used to be the triangle of death," said Lt. Col. Infanti, during an October meeting between Gen. David H. Petraeus and local Iraqi leaders at a police station on Route Malibu, near Mahmoudiya. "Now we call it the circle of life."

The dramatic shift in security conditions and relationships with local citizens--known as the "flipping" of an area--is one of the year's most notable successes. In places like Anbar Province, Baqubah, Yusafiyah and Ghazaliyah, residents and community leaders have banded together to work with their local security units and coalition forces to push out members of al Qaeda in Iraqi and other extremist groups.

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The surge of 30,000 U.S. troops contributed significantly to the successes, Army leaders said. Throughout Baghdad and in areas beyond the capital, units have branched out of forward-operating bases and into outposts that put them closer to the cities and communities they watch over.

Improved security in such areas has allowed the government and citizens to focus on such issues as reconstruction of homes, businesses and schools, and reviving businesses, Gen. Petraeus said at an October meeting with reporters in Dubai.

Nowhere is the change more dramatic than in Ramadi, once an Anbar Province stronghold of al Qaeda, the general said. Schools and homes are being rebuilt, markets are reopening and, in October, the city held a military parade and a 5K "Fun Run."

Other notable successes include:

* Community residents, sheiks and other leaders have joined together as "concerned citizens"--something akin to neighborhood watch groups--who work with area military and police forces to improve security;

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* There's been a reconciliation of a number of former insurgents, notably Abu Abed in Ameriya. He met with Gen. Petraeus and other area leaders in August, telling them al Qaeda will not be tolerated in his area.

As heartening as the successes have been, they haven't come without cost. Two of Lt. Col. Infanti's men--Spec. Alex Jimenez and Pvt. Byron Fouty--remain missing after a May ambush on Route Malibu that left four other U.S. Soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter dead. The body of Pfc. Joseph Anzack was discovered nearby in the Euphrates River about a week later.

As the 10th Mtn. Div. headed home in late fall, some Soldiers described their departure as bittersweet. Sgt. Jason Carvel, a military police squad leader in the 2nd BCT, was encouraged by the progress he witnessed in his area south of Baghdad. He could see a daily difference in security improvements and decreased threat levels.

"We are allowing the Iraqis and their government officials to fix the problems they need to fix with the help of our security and mentorship," said Sgt. Carvel. "That's the only way success can be measured, in my opinion. It's not just what we do. We are not going to 'win' this war. The Iraqis must do it themselves."

But leaving without two of their comrades is tough, Carvel and others said. They're counting on their replacements, Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Div., to continue the search.

"They will pick up right where we left off," Sgt. Carvel said. "When it comes to something like missing Soldiers, it's not a matter of what unit they may be in. A Soldier is a Soldier."

Staff Sgt. Lorie Jewell is assigned to the MNF-I Public Affairs Office.
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Title Annotation:The Year in Review; 10th Mountain Division Soldiers
Author:Jewell, Lorie
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Words:624
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