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Mixed welcome for Baghdad surge

(Page 3 of 3)

Sunni leaders have cried foul, with Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi telling Al Jazeera TV on Sunday that leaks of the plan to Shiite militia chiefs meant a "golden opportunity for Iraq has been squandered."

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But the perspective from Shiite areas is exactly the opposite.

"[Shiites] believe that this security plan is against the Shiites of Iraq – it's an American plan, [President George] Bush's plan, to limit the Shiites of Iraq," says a resident of Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite slum and Mahdi Army stronghold of northeast Baghdad.

"The dirty Iraqi troops with the Americans, they detain many, many people," the resident says, referring to a special Iraqi unit based at the Baghdad Airport that works with US forces in some cases. "If they see a picture of Moqtada in your house, they will detain you."

The cleric himself, this resident says, has ordered his followers – who battled US forces twice in 2004 – not to take on the Americans. Mahdi Army fighters confirm those orders.

"We are following Moqtada's orders, and if he says don't fight [the Americans], we won't," says a Mahdi Army fighter who took part in those 2004 uprisings, and asked not to be named. "We know America wants to make a mass killing of Sadrists, so we should avoid this, by following Moqtada's orders."

And the growing US presence is not universally rejected in Sadr City. "Sometimes they stop the bad people – it's a good service for us, and we should stop them. I feel safer," adds the resident. "Some people are happy with the [Iraqi] troops, and cook dinner for them."

But it may be some time before the Shiite residents of Al Amel, in south Baghdad, make peace with the US troops who they say enabled the release of the arrested Sunni insurgents on Sunday.

Al Amel resident Sadiq, who would not give his last name, fled over the New Year, after a gang of Sunnis – including three (former) friends – shot up his house one night, sending a message to multiple Shiite households to leave.

"We surrendered to reality," says Sadiq, who once ran a computer gaming center on the main street. "We are not fighters or armed. We just took our ID cards, and left our money and gold. We expected to go back."

But now that money and gold is stolen. Along with six computers he was keeping at home, after his business was forced to close. "Today, the important thing is to return back to my home," he says. "I have an unknown future."

So does Moayad, who would also only give his first name, who was attacked by two gunmen early one morning a month ago, as he went to clean his car. A video on his mobile phone shows the vehicle peppered with 15 rounds.

"When they came to assassinate me, they came without any masks, because they were sure they would kill me," says Moayad, who himself wore a mask during the Sunday operation, so he would not be recognized by insurgents.

He has received many phone calls, crudely threatening him and his family. And the same day that gunmen attacked him, he had another close call. Saying goodbye to other neighbors who had congratulated him on his good luck at surviving, he was standing in the doorway with his arm raised when a sniper shot through the cloth of his shirt at the armpit.

Three days later, out of money and ammunition, Moayad gave up his home.

"We are disappointed by the government and US soldiers," says Moayad. "In the future, if they don't help us, we will have to call on the militias and join them, even though that will not solve the problems."