A Tale of Two Baghdads
Monday, June 2, 2003
To the troops of Bravo Company, moving through a corner of this weary capital, their morning patrol represents a benign presence. The American soldiers are here to help the locals, then go home.
"Everybody likes us," Spec. Stephen Harris, a 21-year-old from Lafayette, La., said as the patrol moved through streets drenched in sun. He thinks the people want the U.S. troops to stay. "Oh, yeah," he said, taking a slug from his canteen. His assessment of the neighborhood: "I'd say 95 percent friendly."
To Mohammed Abdullah, standing on the sidewalk as the 10-man patrol passed his gated house, their presence is, as he terms it, "despicable." In a white dishdasha, a long Arab robe, the 34-year-old winced as the soldiers moved along his street, nine carrying automatic weapons slung across their chests, the 10th a medic.
"We're against the occupation, we refuse the occupation -- not 100 percent, but 1,000 percent," he said. "They're walking over my heart. I feel like they're crushing my heart."
Hundreds of U.S. Army patrols were conducted in Baghdad on Sunday. On one, two reporters followed the route of soldiers from Bravo Company of a battalion in the Army's 1st Armored Division. One reporter walked with the patrol, observing the soldiers and interviewing them, while the second trailed behind, measuring Iraqis' reactions. Together, the two views convey a sense of life in Baghdad at a delicate moment when the shape of the U.S. military occupation is still emerging -- and so is the tone of the Iraqi response to it.
Some residents welcomed the troops, not least for providing security that was missing after president Saddam Hussein's government fell April 9. But many expressed ambivalence, or outright anger. The hostility ran especially deep among Sunni Muslims, who make up the neighborhood's majority. Along the streets patrolled by the soldiers, their suspicions ranged from the fate of Iraq's oil to a perceived invasion of their privacy.
To the Americans, this is "Sector 37 North," frequently marked as "hostile" on U.S. military maps of Baghdad. It is known for being a stronghold of Baath Party loyalists. Last week, on the airport highway that marks the southern boundary of the sector, a U.S. soldier died and three others were wounded when their Humvee struck a mine.
But soldiers on the patrol said they did not feel particularly threatened. "Basically, people are pretty friendly," Lt. Paul Clark, a Bravo Company officer from Baltimore, said.
To residents, this is Yarmuk, a west Baghdad neighborhood of middle-class professionals, living in two-story adobe-style houses that would fit nicely into a wealthier corner of Albuquerque or Santa Fe, N.M. Its sentiments are still colored by its origins in the 1960s as a development to house military officers.
"When I see Americans, I feel like I'm looking at another country," said Zuheir Mahdi, 44, standing on a sidewalk enlivened by palm trees and red bougainvillea. "If the Americans want things to improve, things will improve. It's up to the Americans. They're the government."
At about 10:20 a.m., it was 98 degrees when the patrol moved out through the concertina wire that protects their outpost and past two Bradley Fighting Vehicles parked out front.
The patrol was configured so that one "fire team" of four soldiers was in front, and another in the back. In the middle, leading the patrol, was Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Haumschild, 26, of Stillwater, Minn., accompanied by the medic.