Patrolling Baghdad for Terror and Trash

In a project called "Together Forward," thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops go house to house in Baghdad neighborhoods most at risk for violence, searching for illegal weapons and arresting suspected insurgents. The goal is to make the neighborhoods safe enough to start reviving everyday business and trade. And the army is even paying locals to collect trash on the street.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Shortly after he came to office three months ago, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised to crack down on criminals and sectarian death squads in Baghdad. Since then, things have only gotten worse. The Iraqi government says at least 1,500 people lost their lives last month in Baghdad. In the past 24 hours, more than 100 bodies have been delivered to the city morgue. Now, U.S. and Iraqi forces are trying a new tactic. They're trying to pacify the city neighborhood by neighborhood.

From Baghdad, NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.

COREY FLINTOFF reporting:

Abdullah Mizziad(ph), one of NPR's Baghdad reporters, showed up this morning with what looked like an advertising flyer distributed by Iraqi police in an area of west Baghdad.

ABDULLAH MIZZIAD reporting:

They called a couple of kids and told them to spread the leaflets on the neighborhood.

(Speaking foreign language)

It says the Iraqi Security Forces are doing important operations in your neighborhood to expel the terrorists from your community. For your safety and the safety of your family, please stay at home and fully cooperate with the instructions of the police and the army.

FLINTOFF: These neighborhood operations are part of a project known as Together Forward. Thousands of American and Iraqi forces are systematically sealing off entire neighborhoods in Baghdad, then searching them from house to house for suspect insurgents and illegal weapons. Colonel Mike Beech, commander of the Army's Cobra Division, says the idea is to make the neighborhood safe enough to start reviving everyday business and trade.

Colonel MIKE BEECH (U.S. Army Cobra Division): Well, what we're doing in Together Forward is stabilizing an area and then holding it. We're focusing on those areas that are most at-risk for violence.

FLINTOFF: Beech says Iraqi forces are in the lead, searching houses and questioning residents while the Americans help seal off the neighborhoods. Brigadier General Abdul-Karim (ph) Youssef (ph) commands an Iraqi police brigade that's been searching the Dora neighborhood. The general is a boulder of a man with a grizzled moustache, a former Special Forces commander in Saddam Hussein's army. He holds up a homemade hand grenade fashioned from a length of pipe and reels off a list of weapons confiscated during the searches.

Brigadier General ABDUL-KARIM YOUSSEF (Iraqi Police): (Speaking foreign language)

FLINTOFF: AK47 rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, dynamite siezed, suspects arrested. The list goes on.

Brigadier General YOUSSEF: (Speaking foreign language)

FLINTOFF: Once the illegal weapons have been cleared, Lieutenant Colonel Joe Gandar (ph) says the military has plans to revive the local economy.

Lieutenant Colonel JOE GANDAR (U.S. Army): First of all, obviously just by paying locals to pick up their trash, there is an infusion of income into the local area.

FLINTOFF: Gandar says the increased security will prompt workers to spend that income at the local market, giving new life to an important neighborhood business center.

Lieutenant Colonel GANDAR: And the second way we're going to do it is we're working on establishing a Chamber of Commerce here that will have the capability to do micro loans for small businesses.

FLINTOFF: One thing the U.S. forces will have to overcome is a deep suspicion of their motives. Many Iraqis say the U.S. can accomplish anything it wants to in Iraq, but they don't believe that there's any longstanding commitment.

Mohammad Abbas Josim(ph) is relaxing with friends over tea and a game of dominoes at a sidewalk cafe. He's 46, and a soldier in the Iraqi National Guard. He says that in the Dora neighborhood, at least, the crackdown is working.

Mr. MOHAMMAD ABBAS JOSIM (Iraqi National Guard): (Through Translator) Dora is far better now. All people who fled the area came back again. The shopkeeper reopened his shop. In the past, when the Iraqi National Guard was controlling it, there were killings every day.

FLINTOFF: Foura Abbas Hassan(ph) is 38 years old. He's a driver, which can qualify as a hazardous occupation in Baghdad.

Mr. FOURA ABBAS HASSAN (Baghdad resident): (Through Translator) If the Americans wanted something, they would do it in 24 hours. I can tell you that they shall make west Baghdad the best area ever. But let me ask you. How long would they stay? One year? Two years? Not more. After that, what? Will things be the way they are now after they withdraw? In that case, we have not accomplished anything.

FLINTOFF: U.S. commanders agree that the operation will take a tremendous number of troops, but they're not publicly addressing the issue of how long the American part of that force will be available.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Baghdad.

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