U.S. pushes utilities to counter Moqtada al-Sadr
US general in Baghdad says bringing basic services to Sadr City to weaken Sadr and his militia can work this time.
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And three, the people have changed, he says. "Maybe the most important thing is that the people are just tired. They're tired of the bad guys hurting good people, it's as simple as that."Skip to next paragraph
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Hammond admits to disappointment at the pace of government engagement in Sadr City so far, but reserves judgment for the moment. "I'm a little disappointed we haven't got the government in here yet, but give it a few more days," he says. "We'll see how well they've kicked in the resources."
American and Iraqi officials also point to several recent developments to support the idea that now is the time to plant a sustained government presence inside Sadr City.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with Iraq's Sunni vice president to address ways to reintegrate Sunni parties back into the Shiite-led government. Iraq's largest Sunni bloc said over the weekend that it would soon rejoin Maliki's cabinet, a development attributed to Maliki's crackdown on Shiite militias.
Added to that is Maliki's commitment to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her recent visit to Baghdad that the government would spend $300 million to improve living conditions in the Shiite neighborhood.
But perhaps the best sign, some US military officials say, is evidence that local residents are ready for things to change in the neighborhood.
During Hammond's Sadr City foray on Friday, the streets were quiet. It was the Muslim Sabbath, so even those businesses that have remained open despite the fighting are closed. And it was oppressively hot. But few vehicles moved, some streets near the military installations were completely closed to traffic, and the few young men walking or hanging out at intersections failed to give the neighborhood a sense of life.
Hammond's visit to the walled-off neighborhood included stops at the US military outpost where a civil affairs officer worked with an embedded civilian reconstruction team, and at a joint US-Iraqi outpost that had come under fire just the day before.
Colonel Curtis says a drop-in medical clinic that his unit organized the day before was "overwhelmed" with 300 residents. The original trickle of locals coming to file compensation claims for property damage during the heaviest fighting has grown to a steady stream.
For Hammond to get anywhere in Sadr City he needs the participation of an Iraqi government and key ministries that so far have shown little initiative in taking their services into areas like Sadr City.
That is why this general from the 4th Infantry Division on his third tour in Iraq this time finds his agenda filled with meeting Iraqi civilian government officials, local leaders, and influential sheikhs, and his time with military officers increasingly focused on delivering services.
"I didn't think I'd find myself doing this," Hammond says. "But we need the people to see they have security forces that are making their neighborhoods safe, and to see they have a government that can deliver a better quality of life."