U.S. General Sees Shiite Neighborhood Firsthand

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Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli visited the Shaab Ur neighborhood of Baghdad on Monday. He was checking on security and infrastructure in the largely Shiite district.


Today, the mayor of a town in central Iraq climbed into his car; he was driving to work when gunmen opened fire and killed him. Nearby, in the city of Baqubah, gunmen opened fire on a police patrol. They killed one cop and wounded three others. In western Iraq, today's victims include an Iraqi journalist. He was working for a Sunni Muslim television station. And in Baghdad itself, a car bomb exploded near a gas station, killing two people.


The commander of American ground forces in Iraq wants to find a way to reduce that numbing daily violence. Yesterday, Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli went looking for answers in a Baghdad neighborhood. He toured an area that is extremely poor and dominated by Shiite Muslims, one of Iraq's major groups. General Chiarelli was checking on security and city services, and NPR's Tom Bowman went along.

TOM BOWMAN: These days it's more like Mayor Chiarelli than General Chiarelli. He wades into a marketplace. Residents approach when they see this lanky figure trailed by his entourage. They are a scrum of camouflage.

His questions are rapid fire: How's the healthcare, the electricity, the sewer system?

Lieutenant GENERAL PETER CHIARELLI (U.S. Army): What can I do?

Unidentified Man #1: (Through translator) As a priority - is the needy peoples. They need a lot of food assistance. We have a lot of...

Lt. Gen. CHIARELLI: Food assistance? Okay. We're working, we're working...

BOWMAN: The battle of Baghdad continues. American and Iraqi soldiers recently swept through this city neighborhood, searching houses, seizing weapons. Thousands more American soldiers are taking part in the operation. So far Chiarelli says he is pleased with the process.

Lt. Gen. CHIARELLI: Well, I think we've lowered sectarian violence. There's no doubt in my mind we've done that, and we'll continue to do that as we spread the clearing operations and the holding operations as far as we can.

BOWMAN: But in some Baghdad areas the violence has flared again as the American troops move on to another neighborhood. Chiarelli says that's understandable.

Lt. Gen. CHIARELLI: You will have that, of course. We turn it over to the police. They may have a problem, but we'll be right there to come in and help them clean it up.

BOWMAN: One of the complaints I heard from the soldiers was the national police.

Lt. Gen. CHIARELLI: We have a national police program going on right now to retrain them, and on the first of October we'll start entire brigades going through a three-week training phase.

BOWMAN: Chiarelli continually asks about security, but today it's also about the basics of living - food, generators, propane. Chiarelli calls these "Band-Aids." They will cover this economic wound until the Iraqi government can provide more - jobs, city services, a functioning local government.

As Chiarelli walks through the neighborhood there is another lurking enemy, it's the Iraqi bureaucracy. The incompetence, the corruption. The junior officer tells him there are shortages at a clinic.

Lt. Gen. CHIARELLI: Now you've been over the healthcare centers?

Unidentified Man #2: We haven't, we haven't assessed their shit yet, sir.

Gen. CHIARELLI: When you get a chance, get over and assess the PHC.

Unidentified Man #2: Yes, sir. I'll tell you, they're not going to have any drugs.

Lt. Gen. CHIARELLI: I know. I want you to tell me that so I can go beat up the MOH.

BOWMAN: The MOH would be the Ministry of Health. Chiarelli and other officers say Iraqi government money is there for supplies and reconstruction but it's not making it to the neighborhoods of Baghdad or other regions of the country.

Lt. Gen. CHIARELLI: I don't have the money to follow through, but the Iraqi government does.

BOWMAN: So what's the problem here, is it just bureaucracy?

Lt. Gen. CHIARELLI: It's resistance. It seems like it should be such an easy fix. We have not had a bureaucracy that's used to working in a democracy.

BOWMAN: The dollar figures tell the story not only in Baghdad but throughout the country. In Sadr City, a teeming slum that borders this Shaab-Ur neighborhood, the government pledged 25 million for projects. So far nothing has been spent.

In Anbar province, that restive Sunni enclave west of Baghdad, 75 million was promised; nothing has been spent. The city of Fallujah in Anbar province was promised 225 million. Less than half has been spent so far.

Well, Gen., what can you do besides banging the table to get drugs here?

Lt. Gen. CHIARELLI: I've enlisted all my friends to bang the table.

BOWMAN: The gen.'s armored vehicle pulls into an especially poor section of Shaab-Ur. There are unpaved streets; the homes are little more than brick hovels. Goats and sheep wander about. Barefoot children scamper past. Between the houses is a long, greenish stream of sewage and water. Its odors create more of a taste than a smell.

Chiarelli and the other soldiers cross this stream on a piece of corrugated metal. He again talks to the residents. He suggests paying them $7 a day to pick up trash. He wants to fix the pipe so this noxious stream will evaporate, bring in a bulldozer to smooth a dirt road.

Lt. Gen. CHIARELLI: We've got to get them out here. We got to get some folks out here to see what we could do. This is the kind of neighborhood we can turn in a heartbeat.

BOWMAN: Now there is a small crowd of children. They gather around the soldiers as they amble into their armored vehicles, and Chiarelli heads back to his office at Camp Victory to bang some tables.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Baghdad.

(Soundbite of music)


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