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U.S. Unit Walks 'A Fine Line' In Iraqi Capital
"Whatever new plans they come up with, it won't work out here. It's getting worse and worse," the soldier said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he worried about a reprimand from his superior officers. "I was here last time, in the beginning. Now it's totally changed. They don't even respect us anymore. They spit at us, they throw rocks at us. It wasn't like that before."
Higher-ranking officers with the task force said they see encouraging signs that cooperation with Iraqis will improve as the new security initiative in Baghdad begins.
The unit's acting commander, Maj. Clay Padgett, said the influx of U.S. troops and changes in tactics would generate more intelligence about insurgent and militia activity. He said the troops would move onto smaller bases to increase their presence in violent neighborhoods.
Within the past month, Padgett's task force has set up one office known as a joint security site, or JSS, that brings together representatives from the Iraqi police, army and coalition forces to coordinate information and operations. The new security plan calls for about 35 more such sites spread over Baghdad's nine security districts.
"When you hear the stories about soldiers who say the local Iraqis don't want us to be here, you would be amazed at the amount of tips that have come in just from us establishing inside of the JSS," Padgett said. "And because we're right there" with the Iraqi police, "we're right there inside the community. All of a sudden the community feels as though here's another window of opportunity to come up and talk to coalition forces."
Sgt. 1st Class Luis Enrique Gutierrez Rosales, 38, said most of the Iraqis he has met say they are pleased that the Americans patrol their neighborhoods. "They said they always feel safe when we're around. People stop on the road and say thank you. They say, 'If it wasn't for you, I probably wouldn't be alive,' " he said.
But some of his soldiers saw less reason to be hopeful about either their relations with the Iraqis or the troop increase. After the patrol on Thursday, Sgt. Michael Hiler, 26, stepped down from his Humvee and described the day's effort as "stupid."
"We should have pulled out a long time ago," Hiler said. "It's going to take the hand of God to change anything about what we do here, which is nothing. This country's going to fall apart sooner or later, and at this point I say, 'Good riddance.' "
Sitting on bunks while waiting for an evening patrol, a group of soldiers discussed the enemy and the latest security effort, described by Padgett as "the last best hope for Iraq."
"All these extra troops start coming into Baghdad, you'll start reducing the anti-American violence. That way, it will show quick results for the Bush administration. And that way, 'Hey, we won the war, let's get out of here,' " said Pfc. Daniel Gomez, 21, a medic. But he said of the forces opposing the Americans: "They're like the Viet Cong, they can wait it out. We're not going to be here forever, and they know that. And then we're gone, and it's all theirs."