Mixed welcome for Baghdad surge
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Still, many Iraqis say they have seen some positive steps in the days since the surge officially came into effect last Thursday. And not just because several hundred Iraqis are reported to have been able to return home, or that the daily average of 50 dead bodies on the streets has dropped to single digits in recent days.Skip to next paragraph
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"People are very, very happy," with the replacement of a commando unit that refused to go after Shiite militiamen by a regular Iraqi Army unit in the southeast district of Zafaraniyeh, says a resident who could not be named.
"When they came 10 days ago, there was chaos and killing. Since then, I have not heard of a single person being killed," says the resident. It is the new Iraqi commander who is making the difference.
"He came and took the Shiite and Sunni clerics to lunch and told them: 'I am not a sectarian man, and all should be under the law, Sunni and Shiite,' " says the resident, quoting the new commander. " 'If you help me, we will help you. If you don't cooperate with me, you will be breaking the law, and I will crush you.' "
That commander has "made many changes and tells people he will be responsible for supplying all families with cooking fuel," says the Zafaraniyeh resident. He has also marked each official checkpoint with a large number – so people can more easily spot fake checkpoints – and his Iraqi forces are searching every vehicle, including police convoys. On Friday, a joint US-Iraq checkpoint there snagged a "police" colonel who proved to be an imposter after calls were made to the Ministry of Interior to check his identity.
The insurgent stronghold of Dora, with its Sunni majority, has also been a key target of US and Iraqi efforts since the Baghdad security plan was first announced more than a month ago. In a 3:30 a.m. raid a month back, US troops arrived in two helicopters, surrounded a house, and took away two key insurgents.
"They had very sure information," says Dora resident who watched the raid take place. "When [the US] captured these guys, many people had a good feeling, because these two people caused big problems. They forced many [Shiite] families to leave. They were known insurgents."
In subsequent raids, US and Iraqi forces have tread carefully, looking for information about suspect trouble-makers as much as breaking in doors and searching suspicious cars for weaponry and bombs. This resident was handed a scrap of paper, printed in Arabic, which gives a mobile phone number and e-mail address to pass on tips to a US infantry unit, and reads: "Please call this number, to tell about any terrorist activities."
While carefully behaved US troops and their Iraqi translators may glean some information this way, other actions undermine their cause. In one case, the brother of this Dora resident was searched. The family was told to wait in the kitchen. US troops left, and then as the Iraqis were leaving, one asked the family to "check their money." Indeed, nearly $200 in Iraqi currency had disappeared. The Iraqi officer – in a line the family does not believe–blamed the Americans, and then left.
So far the surge has yielded little head-to-head confrontation between US forces and Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. US officers say they expect both sides to have hidden their weapons or drifted away for the time being, until the surge passes.
Shiite areas controlled by the Mahdi Army, loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, are meant to be a particular US target because of links with death squads that have been killing dozens of Sunnis a day. Maliki's government, which relies on Mr. Sadr's supporter to rule, is reported to have pushed for Sunni areas to be cleaned up first.