On the edge of Baghdad’s Sadr City, U.S. soldiers wait to be attacked
Will Weissert, The Associated Press
Published: Monday, January 08, 2007
BAGHDAD -- A mock bumper sticker affixed to a door in the headquarters building of a U.S. outpost in eastern Baghdad proclaims: "I Love Sadr City." Soldiers smile when they see it. They know the opposite is true.
During one tense mission recently, U.S. army soldiers rolled up to the edge of the Shiite slum in hulking Stryker armoured vehicles. They never set foot inside, but they still got a sharp reaction.
A burst of gunfire rang out moments after soldiers got out, prompting one squad to take cover in the home of an unemployed man named Abdul-Kareem Hassan Dhamin.
More shooting followed, but then, just as suddenly, it stopped.
Residents, accustomed to darting indoors during bursts of gunfire, peeked out and re-emerged. A line formed at a bread shop, and women with laundry baskets on their shoulders walked down the street. A man herded goats through a vacant lot strewn with trash.
Sadr City could prove the toughest nut to crack as the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush appears ready to send thousands more soldiers to Baghdad to have a fresh run at pacifying the capital, where insurgent and militia violence has raged for months.
Iraqi government officials have said their troops, which are preparing to take on Sunni neighbourhoods, will largely leave Sadr City to American forces and the Iraqi army’s Special Operations Command division.
During the recent U.S. mission, some squads conducted house-to-house searches while a group of soldiers holed up on the second floor of Dhamin’s home, peering across a street and over a wall into Sadr City.
Much of the area is a slum, and there was little to look at but empty lots and crumbling hovels – although apartment buildings rose in the distance, providing ample cover for snipers.
Some soldiers crouched on the roof, using towels and blankets to create small barriers and make themselves harder to see. Another group moved into a second-floor bedroom.
"They know we’re here. We’re just seeing what their reaction will be," said Capt. Matt James, a Seattle native and commander of Company B, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment. "We’re not trying to provoke a response, but there will probably be one."
The largest Baghdad enclave of Iraq’s Shiite majority, Sadr City is the base for the Mahdi Army, a militia led by anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Under pressure from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in October, U.S. soldiers took down barbed-wire barricades that controlled traffic in and out of the area. Since then, they have ventured in only sparingly.
But so many mortar and rocket attacks have been launched from the outskirts of Sadr City in recent weeks that U.S. commanders decided to raid homes nearby, searching for weapons.
Many soldiers wondered whether what they were looking for was worth the risk.
"Every day we have a mission, but it’s hard to see how that helps accomplish what we came here to do, how it fits into the big picture," said Sgt. James Simons, 24, of Tacoma, Wash., a soldier in the battalion’s Company A.
How ugly could this get?
The house was a four-story building in the city centre of Stalingrad, built parallel to the embankment of the river Volga and overseeing a large square, the "9th January Square" (named for Bloody Sunday (1905)). The house was attacked by the German invaders in September 1942. A platoon of the 13th Guards Division was ordered to seize and defend it. The platoon was commanded by Yakov Pavlov, a junior commander replacing his wounded superior. They were successful, although only four men survived the combat. Together they went on defending the building on their own. After several days, reinforcements finally arrived, equipping the defenders with machine-guns, anti-tank rifles and mortars. The men, now a garrison of twenty-five, surrounded the building with barbed wire and minefields, and established anti-tank and machine-gun posts at the windows. For better internal communications and supplies they breached the walls in the basement and upper floors, and dug a communications trench to Soviet positions outside. Supplies were brought in via the trench or by boats crossing the river, defying German air raids and shelling.
Nevertheless food and especially water was in short supply. Lacking beds, the soldiers tried to sleep on insulation wool torn off pipes, yet usually the Germans kept shooting at the house with deafening machine-gun fire day and night. The Germans attacked the building several times a day. Each time German infantry or tanks tried to cross the square and to close in on the house, Pavlov's men took them under heavy fire from within the basement, from the windows and from the roof top. Leaving behind a square covered with corpses and steel, the Germans had to retreat again.
Eventually the defenders, as well as the Russian civilians who kept living in the basement all that time, held out during intensive fighting from 23 September until 25 November 1942, when they were relieved by counter-attacking Soviet forces
I bet that isn't in Dave Petraeus's playbook.
posted by Steve @ 1:50:00 AM