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January 25, 2007

Blog Dispatches From Iraq

astryker.jpg
"Pure intimidation:" the Stryker seems to be a hit.

Waiting for the surge:

It’s becoming very difficult to predict what’s going to happen the next hour. In addition to the dangers of militia or insurgent attacks, you can’t tell when a bridge or a street will be suddenly blocked. At any minute you can find yourself stuck between two groups of Humvees or Strykers, or even in the middle of a military operation standing between you and your destination. That’s when you call home or work to explain the delay, or calm down a worried friend or relative.

Although the major Baghdad plan isn’t officially launched yet, every day we see several joint operations against targets in and around the city. Still, according to the latest leaked reports, it seems as if the major implementations of the plan are going to wait until the beginning of next month,.

The government here says they are waiting for the buildup of participating troops to be completed, but I think it’s more likely that they are waiting for the Ashura ceremonies to end to allow pilgrims to travel between Baghdad and the shrines safely.

The waiting is proving to be more of a burden on the people of Baghdad than the operation itself would be. Patience is fading under the pressure of the increasing numbers of suicide attacks and the civilian deaths they cause. Baghdadis are desperately waiting for the operation to begin because they hope it can reduce the occurrence of these deadly attacks that distribute death equally among civilians.

Bill Roggio with the Snake Eaters:

In patrolling with the Snake Eaters for several days, their proficiency became readily apparent. The first night patrol, on Thursday, was through the streets of the "poisonous little town" of Sadiqiya. Lieutenant Mohammed led his platoon, 5 MTTs and me through the farmlands, palm groves and the narrow, dirty streets of this most dangerous town. It had rained the two days prior, and the water turned the Iraqi sands into a slick mud that makes walking in the dark quite a challenge. The lieutenant led the patrol as if it was a speed-march at times, but the Iraqi soldiers maintained security throughout. Lt. Mohammed and his soldiers searched several homes, and asked the owners information about insurgent activity. It was an uneventful three hours, with then ever-present baying dogs seeming like the greatest threat.

The following morning, the Snake Eaters, along with the MTTs conducted a cordon on a mosque in Sadaqiya. The mosque is well known for spewing hatred against the American and Iraqi forces, and the Iraqi Army had good intelligence several terrorists would be present in the mosque for Friday sermon. The Iraqi Army conceived, planned and executed the operation from beginning to end. They surrounded the mosque just before the sermon ended. As the men and women exited the mosque the Iraqis lined up the military age males.

The local informants who provided the intelligence for the raid were present, and donned masks to keep their identity secret. They picked the terrorists out from the lineup. Fourteen were arrested and sent up from the battalion to the brigade detention facility for further investigation. Three of those captured are believed to be very senior local al-Qaeda leaders. No shots were fired during the entire operation, which lasted less than 2 hours.

Bill Ardolino, at a police recruitment center -- a dangerous place to be, of course.

[O]ne applicant with an ID that marked him as an Iraqi journalist was uniquely forthcoming. Asked why he’d decided to join the police, he said he’d been driven out of Baghdad by Shia militiamen and needed the money.

When asked who the insurgents were and why they committed acts of violence, he offered two reasons: They want to control the economic levers of power — the police are paid too well — and Iraq’s neighbors were funneling money and resources into the country to destabilize the government.

I asked another fellow what he thought of the Americans. He said he thought bad and good things. His negative opinion focused on collateral damage — he said that “when the Americans are fired upon, they fire back and kill civilians.”

The positive: “If it weren’t for the Americans, Fallujah would have been destroyed a long time ago.”

Processing continued until the early evening, when the tired Marines counted heads: 102 new recruits would board a plane for the Jordanian International Police Training Center in the morning, soon augmenting the roughly 700 police manning stations in and around Fallujah. Some had been turned away, including a 60 year-old volunteer.

In 2004, the number of police in Fallujah was zero.

Michael Yon's latest dispatch ends on a cliffhanger. It's about Custer's old unit, and an Iraqi man who approaches with hands in his pockets and a stubborn definance in the face of shouts and M-16. I just want to quote this commenter:

Joseph Edgerton Says:

As a fellow journalist and photographer, I read your dispatches over and over, and each time is like the first. There are days I wish that I had emailed you earlier and taken you up on your offer to head to Iraq in your place. Now that you are there, I realize that you are doing a far better job than any other reporter, myself included, could ever do. I tell everyone I know, regardless of their views on the war, about this site. I also admire Mr. Gaya’s keen perspective on photography. Does he have a site of his own?
I envy you for being able to work alongside the very best of my generation. Keep the truth coming, and keep honoring our fighting men and women, Mr. Yon. I eagerly await your next dispatch.

Indeed.


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