U.S. Establishes Outposts in Iraq Neighborhoods

The U.S. 82nd Airborne moved into northeast Baghdad eight months ago and has been living in combat outposts in the middle of Shiite, Sunni and mixed neighborhoods. Commanders on the ground say they are seeing slow but steady progress on security.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

To Iraq now. It's been eight months since the U.S. 82nd Airborne moved into northeast Baghdad. Because of the troop surge, the division has been able to deploy twice as many soldiers in their area than before. Almost all of them are living in combat outposts smack in the middle of neighborhoods. These neighborhoods include Shiite areas, Sunni areas, and mixed neighborhoods.

NPR's Anne Garrels has this first of two reports.

ANNE GARRELS: An American patrol bumps over the deteriorating roads of Basitin(ph), a mixed neighborhood. The soldiers are following up on a variety of tips on Sunni and Shiite extremists.

Lieutenant Allen Griffith(ph) calls it painstaking police work.

Lieutenant ALLEN GRIFFITH (U.S. Army): Progress is small, but it's still progress.

SOFIA(ph): (Arabic spoken)

GARRELS: Here, Americans are largely welcome, so much so that Sofia dares invite them in for lunch.

Unidentified Man #1: (Arabic spoken)

GARRELS: Sofia is Shiite. Her husband is Sunni. They fled the sectarian killings in southern Baghdad for this relatively safe neighborhood. But she and American commanders believe this neighborhood would no longer be mixed were it not for the troops' constant presence.

Like the rest of the capital, northeast Baghdad is a series of lily pads, each with its own dynamic.

Unidentified Man #2: (Arabic spoken)

GARRELS: The area includes Ahdamiyah, one of the city's few remaining remaining Sunni enclaves.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Broadwater walks several blocks through downtown, something he couldn't have done two months ago.

Lieutenant Colonel JEFF BROADWATER (U.S. Army): Haven't seen any bad men around, have you?

Unidentified Man #4: (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: The U.S. Military has surrounded Adamiyah with a wall to stop Shiite gunmen from coming in to kidnap, kill and terrorize. The wall has also disrupted Sunni extremists based here. Still, soldiers on foot and Humvees cover Colonel Broadwater in case of an attack.

Lt. Col. BROADWATER: We're always ready for contact. We've had a decrease for the last couple of weeks. But we're always - as you can see - there's always places where, if somebody wanted to take a shot…

GARRELS: Eight months ago, downtown Adamiyah was shuttered. It's now bustling and violence is down. In his fractured Arabic and the help of a translator, Broadwater hands out cards with his phone number so locals can call with tips.

Lt. Col. BROADWATER: (Arabic spoken)

GARRELS: A key change happened just a month ago after al-Qaida in Iraq killed the son of a local leader. Just as Sunnis in the western province of Anbar rose up against Sunni extremists, people here finally dared protest the group's presence at a mosque. The Iraqi army working with the U.S. forced the extremists from their safe haven, capturing several and destroying their weapons. They have not returned.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: An engineer who asked her name not be used tells Broadwater the al-Qaida threat is down. But she continues to fear the overwhelmingly Shiite security forces, despite U.S. efforts. Relations with the police remain terrible. Attitudes to the Army have improved a little.

The Army has agreed to train local Sunni volunteers who now have a role patrolling their own neighborhood. But the government has yet to confirm these Sunnis will be given permanent positions in the security forces. That worries Broadwater.

Lt. Col. BROADWATER: It is a big concerned that we are making promises that we can deliver on.

(Soundbite of crowd)

GARRELS: As Broadwater walks the street, he's deluged with people complaining that Shiite government forces are still blocking food supplies from entering the Sunni enclave. Broadwater remains the broker between the community and the government, bridging the gulf of mistrust.

Lt. Col. BROADWATER: (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Man #5: I'm a chief engineer.

Lt. Col, BROADWATER: Come walk with me.

Unidentified Man #5: No, please.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GARRELS: As Broadwater glad-hands his way through Adamiyah, an electrical engineer is clearly nervous about talking to him in public. He's still isn't sure that Sunni extremists aren't watching and that a casual chat with a colonel will be a death sentence.

In an area further away from the center of Adamiyah in the American outpost, though still within the walls, Ahmed(ph) is also afraid.

AHMED: (Arabic spoken)

GARRELS: He says his neighborhood has yet to revive because there aren't as many U.S. patrols. He says Sunni extremists have shifted their operations here. He wants the Americans in more numbers. It's a block by block fight. As the day ends and the unit returns to its outpost, a young American soldier shakes his head. So many problems, he mutters, so much still to do.

Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad.

MONTAGNE: And tomorrow we travel with U.S. troops in the Shiite-dominated Sadr City.

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