Baghdad's outposts bring new perils
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They say that they are a few of the Sunni families left on 17th Street and that they do not trust the national police, which patrols the area. They say they would not dare venture to Seven Nissan Street, Amel's market street, because it is controlled by Sadr's Mahdi Army. "Only female members of the family shop there," says Mr. Abbas.Skip to next paragraph
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All the alleyways leading to 17th Street, which runs parallel to Seven Nisan, were blocked with low concrete barriers a few months ago. A young man emerges from one of the alleyways to welcome the US soldiers.
"It's all the doing of the Omar Brigade. They tortured and killed people and drove them out of their homes," says Ihab al-Gharrawi, a young Shiite man, referring to a Sunni extremist group purportedly linked to Al Qaeda.
In the early afternoon, members of the Iraqi national police battalion in charge of the area, arrive at the outpost in a battered pick-up truck sprayed with green camouflage-pattern paint.
Lt. Abbas Allewi asks Alpha Company's Lt. Mike Scheer why they had come to the area and how long they intended to stay.
"We are here to help people go to work and school. Sorry, we are here to help you help people go to work and school. We will be here for a while," says Lieutenant Scheer, a native of Sacramento, Calif.
"Okay, If this is going to be a permanent position for you, then we will let you take over security here and move elsewhere," Lieutenant Allewi says.
"No we want you to stay," Scheer tells him.
US and Iraqi officials have said that what makes this latest plan different from previous failed efforts to secure Baghdad is the fact US and Iraqi forces will clean up troubled areas and establish permanent presence there.
Since the launch of the plan, Iraqi and combat outposts as well as joint security stations have been established in Baghdad's nine districts. The stations, which have representatives of the US Army and Iraqi Army and police, fulfill a more tactical and support role.
The 4th Brigade's commander, Col. Ricky Gibbs, who dropped in that day to check on his men in Amel, says that many of the combat outposts will eventually be transformed into joint stations.
Four stations and five outposts have already been set up in his brigade's area of operation, the Rashid district, which includes other major flashpoints such as Dora. Four more combat outposts will go up, he says.
Asked what enemy his men face in Amel, Colonel Gibbs says: "There are many factions. There are elements from Iran. There are elements from JAM. There is good JAM and bad JAM. There are factions that are making life for everybody."
JAM (Jaish al-Mahdi) is the acronym the US military uses for Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. Gibbs says there are passive and more hard-core members of the militia.
"That's why it's so complex. That's why living in the communities with the people, when they get to trust us, they will tell us that guy is bad," adds Gibbs, a native of Austin, Tex.
As nighttime descended, soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, decided to go out on patrol. The unit had been patrolling Amel previously without a permanent presence, and was now helping the 1-28 transition into their new digs.
The 1-18's Staff Sgt. Nicholas Morten, a native of Summersville, W.Va., says that he has been in Iraq since October but still does not fully understand the nature of the Sunni-Shiite struggle and how it's playing out in Amel.
The patrol, led by a Bradley tank, drives through Seventh Nissan Street. Not a single person is on the street but everything pointed to an area firmly in Sadr's grip. A giant illuminated billboard showing Sadr and pictures of six "martyrs" of his movement beneath stood in a traffic island.
"Long live our leader and Mujahed Sayed Moqtada," reads the graffiti on the walls.
As the patrol went down a side street, a massive explosion sent fire in the air. For a moment, there was silence in Sergeant Morten's Humvee. Then, the radio crackled: "We have hit an IED!"
The roadside bomb ripped up one of the Bradley's armor plates, but no one was injured. The soldiers decided to go back to the Amel outpost.
"You need a hug," said someone as the dazed-looking soldier, who had been sitting in the tank's turret, came down.