Hearing Intrudes In Sadr City, If Power Lasts

Hearing Intrudes In Sadr City, If Power Lasts
April 9th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Hearing Intrudes In Sadr City, If Power Lasts

Hearing Intrudes In Sadr City, If Power Lasts
New York Times
April 9, 2008 By Michael R. Gordon
BAGHDAD — When the electricity came on in the ramshackle district of Sadr City, the soldiers from the Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment flicked on the television to watch Tuesday’s Congressional hearings with Gen. David H. Petraeus.
For a brief moment, Washington politics intruded into a world in which automatic weapons fire, tank fire and explosives rock the streets. But before General Petraeus could complete his prepared statement, the power shut down again.
The fleeting reminder of the debate at home was followed by a blunt discussion of the larger aims of the American involvement here.
None of the soldiers clustered around the television favored a speedy reduction in American troops. For soldiers defending a toehold in the most violent area of Baghdad with often unsteady Iraqi troops the idea of confronting well-armed militias with fewer troops seemed almost unfathomable.
“If we did start downgrading forces, it would hurt us more,” said Staff Sgt. William Edwards, who was among the half-dozen troops watching the start of the proceedings. “We would have a lot less to fight all the militias.”
But some from the unit — First Squadron, Second Platoon, Bull Company — harbored doubts about the Iraqi government’s determination to take on the militias.
“It has got to be done,” said Specialist Nicholas Dutkiewicz, 23, from Bristol, Conn. “I don’t know if they are willing to carry it all the way through.”
Sgt. Derek Arnold, 23, from Springfield, Ore., said he was annoyed to learn in the opening statement of the senior Democrat, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, that the Iraqi government was not spending all of its oil proceeds. “It ticked me off to hear how our tax money is going into this when they are just stockpiling the money,” he said.
The platoon’s Sadr City engagement began about two weeks ago, when the platoon rushed to reclaim a checkpoint on the outskirts of the neighborhood that had been abandoned by Iraqi troops who were menaced by Shiite militia fighters. Soon after, it battled its way into Sadr City as part of an American and Iraqi campaign to control the areas that the militias have used as a launching pad to fire rockets at the Green Zone.
After killing dozens of militia fighters, the platoon — 35 soldiers in all — established a foothold in a southern swath of the neighborhood. Some piled into a dank, abandoned apartment building, which represents the forward line of allied forces in this part of Sadr City, while others set up camp in the Stryker vehicles outside.
Existence for the American soldiers here is spartan, at best. The three-story apartment building has no working shower and only one functional, but primitive, toilet. The soldiers live on field rations and sleep on lumpy mats in crowded, dusty rooms.
“We all smell the same, so you can’t really tell,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Brasel, 26, from Tacoma, Wash.
Blankets have been strung over the windows to try to foil enemy snipers, while the platoon’s own snipers and Stryker vehicles outside try to monitor Iraqis who live nearby. There is intermittent and often heavy gunfire outside.
For now, the main fighting is being done by soldiers from the 11th Iraqi Army Division. It has been thrust into the lead as part of an effort to build up the Iraqi Army’s capabilities and to avoid inflaming the population in an area that has long been a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric who controls the Mahdi Army.
The Iraqi soldiers have been struggling to advance to a main thoroughfare about half a mile to the north to solidify control over the area. Judging from the proximity of the gunfire, the Iraqi effort seems to be having mixed results.
For the Americans, holding the line has had its costs. On Tuesday morning, word reached the platoon over the tactical radio that two soldiers from a nearby unit were killed when an explosion rocked their position.
The fighting has also put its mark on the neighborhood. On Monday, an outdoor market burst into flames when a smoke grenade fired by the platoon went astray. A crowd of Iraqis came streaming to the site with buckets of water to try to prevent the fire from spreading. A lone Sadr City fire truck arrived after the flames were put out, its journey apparently delayed by the need to circumvent a bomb-filled stretch of road.
Still, one nearby Sadr City resident, who spoke only after being assured that he would not be identified, said he hoped that the American soldiers would stay for a while. Before the American troops arrived, he said, militias had prowled the streets with impunity.
As if to ward off the mayhem outside, the soldiers have held to some military rituals. On Monday, soldiers crowded into a small room while three of their comrades were officially promoted. Testimonials to their dedication were presented by their superiors while the soldiers unabashedly professed their feeling for their fellow troopers.
“I love you guys,” said Sergeant Edwards, 26, from Jacksonville, Fla., who was elevated from sergeant to staff sergeant.
The troops generally agreed with Sergeant Edwards, who said it would be foolish to withdraw American troops at this time. But some also bemoaned the lack of progress on the Iraqi side.
Lt. Matthew Apostol, 25, from Mililani, Hawaii, and the platoon leader, summed up both concerns.
“There should not be a quick timeline for reducing troops,” he said. “That would not a good thing for Iraq right now. But the Iraqi government is pretty inept. They are not meeting their end of the bargain. The Iraqi Army is not getting the support it needs from its government. They come and ask us for food, water and ammunition, basic things that soldiers need.”

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