Baghdad Neighborhoods Tense Despite Surge
LIANE HANSEN, host:
In today's New York Times, the front page features a story of another assessment from the ground. Reporter Damien Cave is the co-writer of the story. He relied on interviews with 150 Iraqi residents, militia members, officials and American soldiers in 20 Baghdad neighborhoods and he's on the line with us from Baghdad.
Welcome to the program, Damien.
Mr. DAMIEN CAVE (Reporter, New York Times): Thank you. Happy to be here.
HANSEN: We've been hearing a lot about the positive results of the troop surge in Anbar and Diyala provinces where the Sunni insurgents are beginning to work with American troops to fight al-Qaida in Iraq. But your story focuses on Baghdad. Why?
Mr. CAVE: Well, it's the heart of the plan - of the new security plan to surge was Baghdad form the start. When President Bush first announced his plan, he did basically described Baghdad as the linchpin of security for Iraq. So we felt that it was important to really get out on the streets and find out how much this has actually changed life for Iraqi and if it all.
HANSEN: You sight some pretty encouraging statistics about the decline of car bombs and other explosions, sectarian violence in Baghdad. Yet it's surprising, you don't find the trend entirely encouraging. Why not?
Mr. CAVE: Well, I think it's not a question of whether it's encouraging or not. It's a question of what the impact of that is and what the cause of that improvement is. It's not clear that the American troop surge is entirely responsible for this. In many neighborhoods, Shiites have cleansed the area of Sunnis and that's why the violence is down regardless of American troops. And on the impact question, what appears to have happened is that while violence has gone down, the actual sectarian dynamics has not changed. It simply moved to a slightly more underground level but Shiites and Sunnis in many cases are just as angry and mistrustful as they were eight months ago.
HANSEN: Hmm. You take us to several neighborhoods, can we concentrate on two, Dora and Saydia. What would these neighborhoods like before the troop surge?
Mr. CAVE: Before the troop surge, Dora was a very unstable, difficult place. Last summer I was embedded there during the last attempt to secure Baghdad and it was really bad then and then progressively got worse.
Saydia, however, was a middleclass, relatively stable community and recently as five months ago, I might have done some reporting there. What happened when the troops came in is that they managed to secure parts of Dora and calm parts of it down, but a lot of the trouble there bled in to Saydia and has made Saydia one of if not the worst places in the city. So, in some ways the surge helped a certain part of Dora, market in particular but much of Dora remains a very dangerous place. Someone told me, basically, there's old ladies and (unintelligible). So that's basically the only folks who were left to the neighborhood. And then Saydia had to calm just to complete battle zone.
And in the case Dora, you know, one if the things that you tested(ph), you know, other people moving back in. And at this point, very few seem to be.
HANSEN: When you spoke to the residents of Baghdad, what did they say to you about what they think is going to happen if and when American troops go home?
Mr. CAVE: It ranges pretty widely. I mean, one of the things that's been a dramatic turnaround is that the city communities very much feel as the American guard and protectors. They feel under siege from the Shiites. And they feel that if the Americans left, they would simply be slaughtered.
On the Shiite side, there's more frustration with the Americans and, in some cases, there are people who say, yes, we would like them to stay but - and many more say these problems started when the Americans came. And there's a growing sense of anger in places like Sadr City, where the American surge have brought rave and more activity to the area.
So, I mean, as is often the case here, there's a wide range of opinion, much of it breaking down along sectarian lines.
HANSEN: Do you expect the trends you found in Baghdad to be reflected in the expected testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker this week?
Mr. CAVE: It's very hard to tell. I mean, I will say that in the last conversation I had with Ambassador Crocker, one of the things that stood out that he said was, you know, when you go to neighborhoods like Mansur, a middle class area that had been stable a few years ago, and see the level of destruction, you'll realize that it's going to take a very long time for it to heal. And, you know, and that's an assessment that states with what the people Mansur told us. So I do think that there will be some elements of what we found in the testimony about how much, and again, what their conclusions are based on what they see on the ground or what they report as something that, you know, we obviously can tell. It'll be interesting to see what they say and how they basically define or interpret the information that we've all been finding.
HANSEN: Damien Cave with Stephen Farrell wrote today's front-page article in The New York Times, which concludes that American troop buildup in Iraq is failing to meet its goals, at least in Baghdad. Damien Cave spoke to us from Baghdad.
Thanks a lot, Damien.
Mr. CAVE: Sure. Thank you.
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