The U.S. military says that the latest American and Iraqi effort to improve security in Baghdad has officially begun. Joint security stations are a key feature of the new security plan for Baghdad. Eventually, there are to be more than 20 neighborhood outposts where U.S. and Iraqi security forces work together.
One of the first to be set up is in one of Baghdad's most dangerous neighborhoods: Gazalia. It sits on a fault line between Shiite and Sunni enclaves. To the south, fighters with al-Qaida in Mesopotamia have moved in among the Sunni population. To the north, Shiite militias launch raids.
Once a middle class area, sectarian violence has reduced Gazalia to a wasteland. The streets are awash in sewage, trash is everywhere, and there are only two hours of electricity a day. Many residents have fled; those who remain hide.
But Capt. Eric Peterson, who moved Charlie Company from the 2nd Battalion 12th Cavalry into the area a couple of weeks ago, says that as bad as it looks, there are already signs of improvement, as shops that had been shuttered are reopening.
Two months ago, the school was all but closed down after a teacher was raped, mutilated and strung up by her feet outside the building. It's unclear whether the killing was conducted by Shiites or Sunnis, both of whom are attacking the local population. Finally, students are re-appearing.
Peterson, 29, has given out his cell phone number to local residents. He says he now gets regular tips, which he can respond to quickly.
Charlie Company is linked up with an Iraqi Army unit, which is located in the building next door. The Iraqi police are supposed to be part of the mix, but so far there is no cooperation with them.
Peterson's soldiers don't trust the predominantly Shiite Iraqi troops — privately they complain they are arrogant to the locals, and the American soldiers worry about militia infiltration.
They've watched as Iraqi forces have deliberately skipped houses they were supposed to search on patrol. On one occasion, Charlie Company went in afterward. They found 12 kidnap victims.