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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Same old shit

Scott Nelson/World Picture Network, for The New York Times

Iraqi national police commandos in a joint
operation with American soldiers in Dawra,
a violent part of southern Baghdad.

On Patrol, Iraqis Prove Eager, Erratic and Green
Published: August 10, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 9 — The American soldiers stopped at the corner to watch 20 members of the Iraqi national police force search a Sunni mosque in Dawra, a violent neighborhood in southern Baghdad at the heart of the new American drive to secure the capital.

The first camouflaged Iraqi emerged proudly with a quarter-pound of TNT, which he immediately delivered to the Americans. Others handed over evidence bordering on the bizarre: a roll of white string and a pink dress.

“It’s funny, they do this all the time — ‘Hey, check this out,’ ” said Lt. Col. Gregory K. Butts, commander of the United States Army infantry battalion responsible for Dawra. He shook his head at the mix of eagerness and lack of discipline in a unit that nominally, at least, had been fully trained. “Then they go in and get something else,” he said. “We’re close by in case they need some help.”

Baghdad was supposed to be the showcase for an Iraqi force that was strong enough to manage the city of six million to eight million, and could eventually take over as American troops pull out of Iraq. But as the city has slid into increasing chaos, the American military has reversed course, sending thousands more troops in to bolster the raw Iraqi forces who have been assigned control of 70 percent of the capital in recent months.

Several days spent in Dawra with the Americans and accompanying Iraqi units, including the Sixth Brigade of the national police force, illustrated some of the shortcomings that American officers say the Iraqis still show. Two years after the start of an all-out training effort by the United States and its allies, many of the early troubles remain: weak discipline, divided loyalties, failure to complete tasks, the tendency to fire wildly in every direction at the first sign of danger.

In Dawra, American commanders said they were concerned that their Iraqi counterparts had leaked the plan of the search operation, tipping off residents. In some of the roughly 5,000 buildings searched in the neighborhood, Iraqi officers failed to scour entire floors, then flashed Americans an O.K. sign as if they had. And one Iraqi accidentally shot another, sending him into shock.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the spokesman for the American military in Iraq, said Wednesday that Iraqis were in the lead during the raids and “doing an extremely good job at what they’re doing.”

But on the ground, the reviews were mixed.

In the early morning darkness Tuesday, as he walked into the headquarters of the Iraqi national police brigade in Dawra, Colonel Butts said the Iraqi forces he worked with were improving. He praised Brig. Gen. Abdel Karim Rahman al-Azi, the commander of the Sixth Brigade, for injecting discipline into the ranks.

Moments later, he was told that General Karim was not yet awake, despite having a meeting scheduled. Colonel Butts waited a half-hour past the appointed time, then left declaring, “Well, time to get out there and command and control.”

Two hours later, General Karim still had not appeared. His men and their American counterparts waited on 60th Street, between gated stately homes and an empty lot rife with burning trash. The Americans stayed close to their Humvees, weapons ready. The Iraqis, ragtag in mixed uniforms, wandered up and down the street or sat in circles drinking tea.

Two 24-year-old officers sitting on the back gate of an Interior Ministry pickup truck said they received no specific training for the mission. They said they had spent only a day or two learning how to search homes when they first joined the force a year ago.

A block away, the operation looked more methodical. Americans led Iraqis from house to house, marking on maps and with orange stickers what had been cleared. In occupied houses, they asked and received permission to enter — and received praise from residents who complained that earlier sweeps by the Iraqi unit that the Sixth Brigade had replaced had led to unnecessary destruction.

posted by Steve @ 1:34:00 AM

1:34:00 AM

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