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'I Don't Think This Place Is Worth Another Soldier's Life'
"I'm frustrated. After 14 months, I've got a lot of thoughts in my head. Do they fundamentally get giving up individual rights and power for the greater good?" Glaze said. "I'm going to leave here being skeptical of everything."
Over the past two months, the U.S. soldiers have recruited more than 300 local residents, most of them Sunnis, into a neighborhood defense force. This has proved more controversial in Sadiyah than elsewhere; the Iraqi government has openly accused the force's members of abusing residents and has limited their freedom of movement. In September, after Glaze led an eight-month campaign to kick out the Wolf Brigade, soldiers from the Iraqi army's Muthanna Brigade, which has clashed with Sunni volunteers in the Abu Ghraib area, arrived in Sadiyah.
The Iraqi army's arrival and the emergence of the Sunni volunteers have coincided with some positive signs, the soldiers said. Some of the shops along the once-busy commercial district of Tijari Street now open for a few hours a day. The number of violent incidents has dropped, although it rose again over the past two weeks, officers said.
"This is a dangerous place," said Capt. Lee Showman, 28, a senior officer in the battalion. "People are killed here every day, and you don't hear about it. People are kidnapped here every day, and you don't hear about it."
On Oct. 14, Washington Post special correspondent Salih Saif Aldin was killed while on assignment in Sadiyah.
Those who patrol the neighborhood every day say the fight has left them tired, bitter, wounded and confused. Many of their scars are on display, some no one can see. Sgt. 1st Class Todd Carlsrud has a long gash on the right side of his neck and carries a lump of shrapnel lodged against his spine that his doctors would not risk cutting out. Another sergeant felt the flaming pain of a bullet tearing through his cheek and learned the taste of his own warm blood. He was one of three soldiers that day to get shot in the head -- a fourth was hit in the biceps -- when his squad walked into a house and found two gunmen waiting.
"The closer we get to leaving, the more we worry about it," said Alarcon, 27, sitting at a plastic table with several other soldiers outside their outpost in Sadiyah. "Being here, you know that any second, any time of the day, your life could be over."
"Gone in a flash," said Sgt. Matthew Marino.
"We had two mechanics working in the motor pool get hit by mortars," Alarcon said. "You would have never thought." Both died.
Many of the soldiers from the battalion are on their second tour in Iraq. Three years ago, they were based in Tikrit, the home of Saddam Hussein, a city they entered expecting to fight a determined Sunni insurgency. By the end of their tour, with much of the violence contained, many of them felt optimistic about progress in Iraq.
"I honestly thought we were making a difference in Tikrit. Then we come back to a hellhole," Marino said. "That was a playground compared to Baghdad."
The American people don't fully realize what's going on, said Staff Sgt. Richard McClary, 27, a section leader from Buffalo.
"They just know back there what the higher-ups here tell them. But the higher-ups don't go anywhere, and actually they only go to the safe places, places with a little bit of gunfire," he said. "They don't ever [expletive] see what we see on the ground."