Baghdad Neighborhood Reverts to Militant Stance
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
We're now joined by NPR's Anne Garrels who is embedded with U.S. troops at Forward Operating Base Falcon in southwest Baghdad. It's an area whose population is predominantly Shia. And in recent weeks, the Shiite militias there have been attacking U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Annie, what's the situation there?
ANNE GARRELS: Well, as you say, there have been these sporadic and highly unusual attacks by militiamen on national police checkpoints. Last night, one policeman was killed and several wounded. And last year, the national police, you know, you may recall, were working hand in hand with the Sadrist in their attempts to attack U.S. forces. They gave them protection when they planted roadside bombs. For them to be fighting off the Sadrist is a big change.
And the question everyone's asking here at the bases, are they doing this as officers of the law or because more and more national policemen are actually being recruited by Sadr Shiite rivals, the Islamic Supreme Council.
Today on the streets, Shiite militiamen were much more noticeable than in the past. They had effectively threatened shop owners. They closed their stores to support the Sadrist protest against U.S. and the Iraqi government detentions of militiamen. Schools were closed. I went to several rounds, military patrols public school projects were at a - such as they are, were at a standstill. Workers were apparently either supporting the strike or were frightened off and didn't turn out for work.
SIEGEL: Now, what about the upsurge of attacks on U.S. troops, and how are U.S. forces dealing with those attacks?
GARRELS: Well, there was a real lull here especially in southwest Baghdad in February and there's been a dramatic spike especially with rocket attacks. We got 16 rocket and mortar attacks here at Camp Falcon last night. Because of these growing attacks, there are far more patrols on the streets. One of those patrols on Sunday was hit by one of the most powerful roadside bombs people have seen here in months. Four soldiers were burned to death inside their Bradley, and one soldier was hideously burned and is now fighting for his life.
There has been a communications blackout here for the last few days while the military tries to officially inform the families; they have now done so. So everybody here tonight is on a cell phone calling their families, telling them they are okay.
SIEGEL: In Basra, we hear about the Iraqi forces taking the lead with U.S. and Britain, perhaps providing air support or embedding some advisers along the way. There in Baghdad, has the balance of responsibility between the U.S. and the Iraqis, has it changed visibly to you or are the Americans doing what the Americans did last year and the year before?
GARRELS: The Americans are doing what they did yesterday and the day before that. The only difference is they're being attacked more than they were a month ago or two months ago, so they are back on alert again. But there's always been this tension that the Sadrists don't always agree with who the U.S. goes after. Sheikhs come to the American commanders and say you've killed six Shiites; they're martyrs. And the American commanders then, you know, provide evidence to the sheikhs who are allied with Sadr and say, look, they were on rooftops. Here are photographs, the aerial photographs of them with RPGs with illegal weapons.
And I asked the commander today, Colonel Ricky Gibbs, and so what are they then saying? He said, they can't say anything.
SIEGEL: Anne Garrels at Forward Operating Base Falcon, embedded with U.S. troops there in southwest Baghdad.
Thanks a lot and take care.
GARRELS: Thank you.
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