Good News from Baghdad

Another email update from Senior Middle East Correspondant Paul Schemm, this time including some stuff that could be read as sort-of positive, if you're a fan of the American presence in Iraq:

The US soldiers obligingly stopped periodically during one patrol and
allowed me to clamber out and talk to people. What they said
surprised me so much that I later sent some of the Sunnis from the
office to the same neighborhood to check it out.

These people wanted the Americans around. They trusted the Americans [...]

Of course, you really need to see it in context to judge, so the full text is below the fold:


In the midst of this whole mess, the last place I expected to find
people who liked America was west Baghdad.

West Baghdad, roughly speaking, is the Sunni part of a very mixed
city, and has the distinction of being the home to a pretty nasty
insurgency for the last few years - you wanna get kidnapped, go to
west Baghdad, where they also shoot men for wearing shorts and women
for not wearing veils.

US troops turned the place over to the Iraqi army back in December,
all part of that process of Bush calls our stepping down as the
Iraqis step up... Except it all went to hell so badly that in April
the US army had to move back in - I don't think that was mentioned in
the state of the union address.

Now, the whole capital's going to hell in a handbasket and the same
process is being repeated across the city as more US troops are being
rushed in. Six weeks into the new prime minister's security plan,
it's worse than ever here and the Iraqi forces have shown themselves
unable to control their own capital.

Doesn't bode well.

This time it's not the insurgents that are messing things up,
however, it's the death squads, the militias, the sectarian killings.
People don't spend much time targeting the Americans out here any
more, they're too busy killing each other


Before going on a patrol, the burly sergeant (they're always burly it
seems) was giving the patrol briefing which includes reading down the
"sigacts" report. What? Signficant activities. So we stood there in
120 degree (45C) weather next to our humvees listening to a list of
who'd been shooting who and where bombs and bodies had been turning
up across the west Baghdad area.

One bit caught my attention. Up in the north, a Sunni and Shiite
neighborhood were shooting mortars at each other every night. I later
heard this goes on in some southern neighborhoods as well. As someone
in the office later pointed out, if two neighborhoods are shelling
each other, can't we call it a civil war?

So we all piled into the humvees and went on patrol through the
"mean" streets of west Baghdad, and the first thing I noticed was
just how nice some of these streets were. There were leafy palm trees
everywhere, in one area a few people had even trimmed their hedges
into topiary shapes. Brightly colored bougainvilleas spilled down
garden walls into the street.

Trash, however, lay piled uncollected in any vacant lot and every
block had a massive generator, festooned with wires, serving the block.

At every street corner, people had dragged rocks, bits of concrete
barrier and whole palm trunks to block off their streets. The
inhabitants told me it was to protect against nighttime intruders and
stop drive by shootings.

The commercial streets, the public spaces, in these neighborhoods
were shattered. Rows of shops with their metal shutters closed at all
hours of the days. There were twisted metal frames that were once
cars packed with explosives, and never any people.

It was like a reversion to medieval Islamic cities were the gates of
alleys and quarters would be locked at night, dividing cities up into
a series of isolated strongholds - much the way Baghdad now seemed to

The US soldiers obligingly stopped periodically during one patrol and
allowed me to clamber out and talk to people. What they said
surprised me so much that I later sent some of the Sunnis from the
office to the same neighborhood to check it out.

These people wanted the Americans around. They trusted the Americans
- at least not to kill them for their id cards, as one guy put it.
You know the situation in Baghdad is bad when the American occupiers
are preferred, better yet, considered fair and just.

And this is after the allegations marines shooting up civilians in
Haditha and a soldier raping a woman and killing her family.

You knew what happened after you were arrested by an American, when
you were taken away by the police your just weren't heard from again.

The focus is no longer the Americans in Baghdad, they have drifted
off to the sidelines as the neighborhoods arm themselves for the
internecine battles.[...]

I met this one old Iraqi guy in a particularly nice west Baghdad
neighborhood called Jamaa, or university, he talked about how his
neighbors are just melting away.

"That guy was a professor, he now lives in Malaysia, I'm not sure
where that guy moved, and that guy over there lives in Jordan after
he was kidnapped and ransomed," he said gesturing to the leafy houses
across the street with their unkempt lawns.

Everyone in this neighborhood of professors, doctors and lawyers
fears kidnapping. He described how his neighbor was snatched right in
the street by a pair of black BMWs. The ransom was half a million

"I have two doors, one in front, one in back - I always leave the
house from the back door," he said, a diminutive little man wearing
just an undershirt in the summer heat. He showed me his garden, a
mini Versaille of statuary and ornamental benches.

The neighborhoods got a little shabbier later when I accompanied a
patrol farther south into Jihad, where a few weeks earlier Shiite
militiamen descended on the neighborhood, set up fake checkpoints and
just started killing people.

The Americans didn't patrol it much before. Now they do. Perhaps it
was my imagination, but there was a lot more smiling and waving at
Americans in this neighborhood than I'd seen in others. Half of Jihad
is fairly nice houses inhabited by Sunnis while the other half is
trash filled and crumbling and Shiite.

The area is patrolled by the federal police, once known as the
commandos, and predominantly Shiite. The litany of events that led up
to the massacre is quite depressing.

The police raided a mosque known to harbor weapons and insurgents. A
few days later a bomb hit a police patrol killing several. A few days
later a bomb went off in front of a Sunni mosque just after prayers,
killing several. The next day a huge car bomb went off in front of a
Shiite mosque, shattering it and killing 12.

The next day the militias showed up.

I saw the shattered remnants of the Shiite mosque, in a poor
neighborhood, in a street filled with rubble, with barricades all
around to prevent new car bombs.

Graffiti nearby read "the army of the imam is the fork in the eye of

Ten minutes drive later we were outside the Sunni mosque that was
bombed, where the Shiite militia had set up a check points and
started killing people in the street. Where the national police who
were supposed protect the mosque had suddenly disappeared. The US
soldiers pointed out to me the large dark patches of dried blood
still on the sidewalk.

In the backstreets behind the mosque the graffiti said "long live the
resistance and death to the Americans and the spies." But in front of
the mosque on the street with the dark stains, the same graffiti had
been painted over.


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By Mark Paris (not verified) on 02 Aug 2006 #permalink