Iraqi opposition help allies interact with local population

Monday, April 7, 2003

Members of the U.S.-trained Iraqi opposition are helping coalition forces distribute food and find Iraqi workers for the British and U.S. militaries.

U.S. officials said the 80 members of the so-called Free Iraqi Forces have been deployed in southern Iraq and are helping in the distribution of food and humanitarian aid. They said the Iraqi opposition members have checked credentials of prospective local employees for the British and U.S. militaries and served as translators for commanders.

Col. David Blackledge, commander of the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade, said the Iraqi opposition force has been deployed in the area of Umm Qasr. Blackledge, who heads the efforts of the Iraqi exiles, said the opposition members have recruited local Iraqis to help transport and distribute food and renew operations at the port.

"They've assisted us as we've gathered documents, particularly in the port facility, because we've been working to get port workers back in place," Blackledge said in a Pentagon briefing from Umm Qasr on Friday.

"And as those individuals have been rehired to work at the port, our Free Iraqi Forces have helped verify that these are the actual individuals that are documented as previous workers, they do have the skills necessary to work at the port."

Blackledge said the Iraqi opposition force has helped win the cooperation of residents of Umm Qasr. He termed their work as highly successful.

Last week, the Pentagon terminated a program to train Iraqi opposition members in Hungary. Officials said the plans for training up to 3,000 Iraqi nationals were overtaken by the launch of the war in Iraq.

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