In Baghdad, Army Adapts to Try to Win Over Civilians
But Townsend says just as important is that Iraqi security forces are now patrolling the Ameriyah neighborhood. "Before we started this operation, Iraqi forces did not even come into Ameriyah," he says. The Iraqis were hunkered down in a checkpoint at its entrance, where they came under periodic sniper fire.
On the final sweep through Mansour, Townsend's battalion commander, Lt. Col. Van Smiley, warmly greeted the tall Iraqi brigade commander, Col. Ghassan Khalid, with whom he has been working daily. In Arab fashion, they kissed each other's cheeks four times before discussing their plan of action. Smiley's troops had just sealed off a street to search a vacant house that had been opened by a tearful neighbor.
With the help of a U.S. military interpreter, U.S. News asked the woman in a gold-trimmed black robe why she was crying.
"The owners trusted me to take care of the house, and I am afraid they will break something," she said of the soldiers who filed through the house but did not find the rumored weapons. Heeding her pleas, the soldiers rehung the black iron gate, which had been torn off its hinges in an earlier raid.
In military terms, the day's results were modest: A German-built bunker was found, with Saddam-era uniforms and boots. Hundreds of rounds of ammunition, along with machine guns and body armor, were found at the Grand Rahman mosque.
More important was the renewed commercial activity in Mansour, once the city's upscale shopping district, as well as a few signs that Iraqis are beginning to take charge of their own affairs. A visit to the district police station found a new chief in chargea surprise to both the U.S. and the Iraqi soldiers. Commanders are frequently rotated or summarily fired, as was one Army commander after last week's car bomb in the Rusafa district. The U.S. military police lieutenant assigned to be the Mansour chief's adviser said she would introduce him at the daily meeting that is used to knit together the joint U.S.-Iraqi military and police effort to bring security to Baghdad.
Protecting the Sunnis
Next to the police station, the headquarters of the Iraqi Islamic Partythe major Sunni political organizationis a fortified compound with pillbox lookouts and armed guards who drive official-looking white pickups topped with red and blue lights. Maj. Jesse Pearson, the operations officer of the Stryker battalion, recounted an earlier visit to check to see whether the guards' AK-47 rifles were duly registered and to confiscate the illegal heavy guns.
The IIP is under siege from the Shiite militia, which expanded its reach into western Baghdad last year, and from al Qaeda in Iraq, which (though also Sunni) considers the IIP leaders as traitors for their participation in elections and the Iraqi parliament.
As the Americans approached the front gates, the armed guards pointed their weapons.
"We told them that they do not have anything to fear from this uniform," Pearson said, plucking his shirt. "We are just trying to make sure they are following Iraqi law."
Indeed, the Sunni minority calls frequently to U.S. military headquarters downtown in search of protection from its armed opponents.
Smiley's unit has been all over Baghdad clearing the nastiest neighborhoods since December, when the Strykers drove down from Mosul as the leading edge of the American "surge" strategy in the capital. The unit's fast, armored vehicles outfitted with the latest computerized equipment are made for patrolling bad neighborhoods. Smiley's men have been testing Tacticoms, a digital device that registers a soldier's movement as he walks through the streets. From a computer screen in the Stryker, a commander can see where each of his men is in the honeycomb of the city.
Smiley believes that Baghdad can only be secured this wayblock by block, alongside Iraqi forces. He appeals for the United States not to pull the plug on the effort: "If you'll just give us more time to do what we're doing, I believe we'll get the Iraqis over the hump."
But for that, he is talking about a few more years, not months.