Uneasy Allies on Patrol in Baghdad
"Ten minutes on, 10 minutes off," a shop owner lamented, referring to unreliable electricity supplies. Another man in a gray straw hat chimed in with his belief that the power is being diverted to other parts of Sadr City because of bribery. He brandished a thick stack of Iraqi dinars from his pocket to illustrate the point.
"Iraq's a sovereign nation now," Chapman told him. "This has always been up to your Ministry of Energy."
Then the children, who swarmed around the convoy, began chanting "Yes, yes, Sadr" as the troops headed toward the Humvees.
"They usually say this when we go," said Lt. Zach Swanson, 24, of Chicago. "They think it's some kind of victory."
Chapman, a 29-year-old from Great Valley, N.Y., said he was determined to resolve the electricity problem -- it was a "crucial quality of life" issue, he said, as summer temperatures push toward 120 degrees.
The convoy pulled up in front of a power station on the edge of Sadr City a half-hour later. Chapman, Swanson and the masked interpreter headed toward the entrance, where an Iraqi police officer in a pressed uniform manned the gate.
"Do you have permission to be here?" the officer asked Chapman, who if surprised did not show it. He replied yes, and a minute later the group walked toward the main building.
The three men inside the control room appeared unhappy to see Chapman, who greeted them politely before asking to see their handwritten logbook charting the amount of electricity going to each neighborhood. The antique dials and switches on the control panels gave the room the feeling of a vintage James Bond movie.
To encourage a greater sense of independence, Chapman scheduled a stop at the Habibiya police station to deliver a gift to the chief, Maj. Awad Fatlawi. It was an Iraqi flag, and Fatlawi unfolded it like a child unwrapping a Christmas present, then ordered a "Pepsi party" in his air-conditioned office while his officers jury-rigged a flag pole.
Chapman, Swanson and the interpreter, who kept the bandanna firmly on his face, sipped the cold sodas on couches lining the walls. A few floors above, several Iraqi police officers kissed the red, white and black flag before fixing it to a long stick and wiring it to the railing.
"No one gives us any weapons," Fatlawi complained to Chapman. "It is the same in every police station. We all need weapons."
Further questioning revealed that Fatlawi had a number of AK-47 assault rifles, but that there are no bullets for the 9mm pistols tucked in his officers' waistbands. Fatlawi made clear, however, that he wanted rocket-propelled grenade launchers and heavy machine guns to be able to hold off an attack. Chapman grimaced, but indicated those supplies would now come, if they come at all, through Iraq's Interior Ministry.
"Have there been any civilians helping at the checkpoints?" Chapman asked.
"No, we don't need any help," Fatlawi said, brushing away the suggestion. "Maybe they were only helping direct traffic."
Chapman made his rounds like a cop working a beat, taking the good with the bad. Then the convoy passed through the market in the center of the neighborhood, and the Iraqi soldiers gleefully waved Sadr's poster. U.S. soldiers, furious at the display, believed the demonstration incited the crowd against them.
"They've got to at least put it down," yelled Pfc. Austin Twombly, 20, of Deerfield, N.H., from the Humvee's gunner's nest as people pressed closer to the convoy. He yelled at them to do so, but they did not.
Later, defending himself in the face of several angry U.S. soldiers, the Iraqi squad leader said the child warned him to take the poster or the convoy would be attacked. "Weak leader," Allen, the sergeant, screamed at him. Chapman stepped between the men.
Back at the camp, Chapman described the challenge he faces in placing limits on Iraqi troops in a country not his own.
"They can move forward however they want," Chapman said. "We just asked them to stop displaying the picture. They can support whoever they want on their personal time."
The poster, folded in half, remained in the back of Brantley's Humvee.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company