Wednesday, August 22, 2007

With the 82nd Airborne in Baghdad

Michael J Totten, to those of you who don't know, is a very interesting blogger/journalist. He's a Democrat but genuinely, scrupulously objective on what he reports. He lived in Lebanon for 9 months and left a couple of months before Hezbollah started the war with Israel. (It was time to go home; he had no idea the war was coming, otherswise I suspect he would have stayed.)

He covered that war from the Israeli side. He's been to Iraqi Kurdistan a couple of times and now he's just back from an embed with the 82nd Airborne in Baghdad and very surprised at what he finds there.

What follows is just the first bit. Read the whole thing. It's worth it. American ingenuity! Solar Powered Street Lamps!! Learning Arabic on the fly!!

August 20, 2007

How to Spy in Iraq

By Michael J. Totten

BAGHDAD – American soldiers arrived in Iraq in 2003 with not much of a plan and little idea what to expect. The Iraqi government, military, and police were overthrown and disbanded under de-Baathification. Most Iraqis who knew how to run the country were either sent home or imprisoned. Americans were in charge of just about everything even though they had no experience running even their own country let alone a traumatized and suspicious Arab society. They were confounded by its exotic and dysfunctional ways. When Sunni and Shia militias launched wars against each other and against the Americans, confusion turned to bewilderment.

General David Petraeus fared better than other American commanders in cracking the code of Iraqi society and reducing the insurgency in Mosul from an explosion to a simmer. I saw some of the results of his strategy’s expansion to Baghdad with troops in the 82nd Airborne Division. Instead of staying on base and training Iraqis while security disintegrated outside the wire, they moved into a neighborhood in Baghdad where they now live and work among the civilian population 24 hours a day.

Clear, hold, and build is the strategy now. The Graya’at neighborhood has been cleared of active insurgents, although there still are dormant cells in the area. The Army is working on several modest community and urban renewal projects and is planning larger ones in the near future. Constant patrols and intelligence gathering are the two crucial pieces of the hold part of the strategy.

I went out one night with Lieutenant Larry Pitts and his men one of their intel gathering missions.

“We’ll collect info on Shias in Sunni areas and Sunnis in Shia areas,” he told me. “We make the best of it by going out and meeting the local people. It works because we have a decent reputation around here that we’ve been cultivating for a long time. Reporters would get it more if they were with us from the beginning.”

We saddled up in Humvees, drove down quiet residential streets, and dismounted on a street near a palm grove.

Children came out of their houses to meet us.

The rest is great reading here: