Beginnings of New U.S. Strategy Seen in Iraq
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
It's been another week of intense violence in Iraq. Earlier today, a bomb exploded at the Friday morning pet market in Baghdad; this one day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told parliament there will be no safe haven for terrorists.
The White House praised that comment. It's still unclear though how much Iraq will contribute to the so-called surge - President Bush's new Iraq policy. We wondered whether there's any evidence of the new policy on the streets of Baghdad.
So we called to the Iraqi capital and NPR's Anne Garrels. Annie, welcome back to the show. What do you see there? Do you see increased American troops, and do you see new tactics?
ANNE GARRELS: Not yet. More troops have arrived in Baghdad, but they're not out on the streets yet. However, they are beginning some test cases of the new strategy where they're, if you will, embedding American troops in neighborhoods. They're taking over buildings. They're living there. They're not living in those - in their big bases where they would go back at night. That's just beginning.
CHADWICK: So they are just kind of trying this out and seeing how it's working there?
GARRELS: Exactly. You know, it started in one neighborhood. I'm about to go out and embed with another unit that's doing this. But it's still very much a trial basis. They're just setting up. The Iraqi units are just joining them. And you know, as you suggested, you know, American troops are a little leery of the Iraqi troops that are working with them. They're leery of their competence. They're leery of their dedication.
CHADWICK: Is there any sense that Prime Minister Maliki has kind of gotten somewhere with his comments to parliament yesterday?
GARRELS: Well, he certainly got a vote in support of the new security plan, which includes the additional American troops, which after a pretty turbulent session in parliament yesterday was remarkable. I mean you had Sunni politicians and Shiite politicians all accusing each other of terrorists, with Maliki jumping in into the fray as well. It really underscored the ongoing suspicion at best amongst the sects.
But it looks like there is more than just verbiage going on, because in the last few weeks, Iraqi and U.S. troops have rolled up more than 600 Sadr militiamen, including some key commanders. And Sadr's people have not responded in kind.
CHADWICK: You know, I heard you reporting this last night on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. The mayor of Sadr City - this is the neighborhood of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr - and the mayor saying he's going to try to cooperate with people. But you know, months ago, back in October, Iraq's national security adviser told me in an interview that the Sadr militia had signed a disarmament agreement.
He said that there'd be no more problem from them - this is October. There has been trouble since then. So why would we think that this militia is going to be more cooperative now than they have been?
GARRELS: Well, I think everyone is a little skeptical. But what has been quite striking is that Sadr commanders I've spoken to have said at the very least they've been told to keep a low profile, and they seem to be agreeing up to it. They obviously see that Maliki has changed his policy and is going after them. They fear a major U.S. assault with additional troops in Baghdad. And the comments by the mayor of Sadr City, that he is now representing Sadr militias as well as others in talks with coalition commanders - and this is the first time that Sadr would have given a nod to something like this - is quite extraordinary. He met with the British again today, a British general. He's going to meet with him tomorrow. So as the U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, said, at the moment this mayor is saying all the right things. Can he deliver? Who knows? Is this just a ruse so that the militias just kind of, you know, melt away while the offensive goes on only to come back later? That too is uncertain.
CHADWICK: NPR's Anne Garrels reporting from Baghdad again. Annie, thank you.
GARRELS: Thank you.