Baghdad Plan Has Elusive Targets

Soldiers with the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division patrol in central Baghdad. Soldiers and officials charged with implementing security plan say they are limited because troops cannot identify, let alone apprehend, insurgents.
Soldiers with the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division patrol in central Baghdad. Soldiers and officials charged with implementing security plan say they are limited because troops cannot identify, let alone apprehend, insurgents. (Khalid Mohammed -- Associated Press)

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By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 26, 2007

BAGHDAD -- The engineer stood aside as Iraqi and American soldiers rifled through his daughter's wardrobe and peered under her bed. He did not mind when they confiscated the second clip for his AK-47, because he knew it could be easily replaced. He demurred when asked about insurgent activity in the neighborhood, afraid to be stamped an informant and driven from his home of 14 years. Face to face with the Baghdad security plan, it seemed to him a bit absurd.

"Obviously, the soldiers lack the necessary information about where to look and who to look for," said the government engineer, who declined to give his name in an interview during a sweep through his western Baghdad neighborhood last Monday. "There are too many houses and too many hide-outs."

American military commanders in Iraq describe the security plan they began implementing in mid-February as a rising tide: a gradual influx of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops whose extended presence in the city's violent neighborhoods will drown the militants' ability to stage bombings and sectarian killings.

But U.S. troops, Iraqi soldiers and officials, and Baghdad residents say the plan is hampered because security forces cannot identify, let alone apprehend, the elusive perpetrators of the violence. Shiite militiamen in the capital say they are keeping a low profile to wait out the security plan. U.S. commanders have noted increased insurgent violence in the Sunni-dominated belt around Baghdad and are concerned that fighters are shifting their focus outside the city.

The first brigade of 2,700 American reinforcements is patrolling the capital, bringing the total U.S. troop presence in Baghdad to 40,000, and members of three additional Iraqi military brigades have entered the city, though not at full strength. Soldiers have opened 14 of the estimated 30 joint policing stations they will operate in the capital.

Military patrols frequently push into neighborhoods where they have been shot at or struck with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, only to find no one to arrest.

"I don't know who I'm fighting most of the time," said Staff Sgt. Joseph Lopez, 39, a soldier based in the northern outskirts of the capital. "I don't know who is setting what IED."

Many people in Baghdad express deep reservations about the Iraqi security forces' ability and desire to battle their fellow citizens. U.S. soldiers say their Iraqi counterparts are swayed more by the anti-American speeches of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr than by the public appeals of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for even-handed enforcement.

On the streets of the capital, it is impossible to miss the increased military presence. Iraqi police pickups speed down the avenues, sirens wailing, as masked officers fire machine guns to clear their path. Iraqi army soldiers and policemen stand sentry at checkpoint after checkpoint, but more often than not allow cars to pass through without inspection.

"They're just standing and waving at the cars," said Sgt. Haider Hasim, 20, a member of the Iraqi National Guard's 1st Brigade, 2nd Regiment of the 6th Division, who patrols the western Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriyah. "They won't take weapons from their friends."

Commandos and policemen from the predominantly Shiite Interior Ministry have little desire to raid or arrest members of their own sect or residents from their home neighborhoods, said Hasim, whose father is Sunni and mother is Shiite. From what he has seen, the Iraqi soldiers brought in for the security plan are accomplishing little.

"They're doing nothing, they're just sleeping at the camps," he said. "We do not go out if the Americans are not with us."

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