LIANE HANSEN, host:
The Voices in the News you'll hear this week are likely to come from Capitol Hill. Lawmakers return from their recess on Tuesday and the Iraq war is expected to top the agenda.
They'll consider several new reports and testimony from hearings that are set to begin this week then next week, Congress will hear from the Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and the military commander there, General David Petraeus.
Michael Gordon is a military correspondent for the New York Times. His story, "The Former-Insurgent Counterinsurgency," appears in today's New York Times Magazine. He's in the studio. Welcome to the program.
Mr. MICHAEL GORDON (Military correspondent, New York Times): I'm glad to be here.
HANSEN: As I mentioned, Congress has quite a few things to go through; the National Intelligence Estimate, the government accountability office study. How does it square, perhaps with what you've seen in Iraq?
Mr. GORDON: Well, I think that the most recent National Intelligence Estimate does a pretty good job of painting a picture of the situation in Iraq. There has been a reduction in sectarian killings. There's been somewhat of a reduction and suicide bombings. There's been some success in going after al-Qaida in Iraq and that's on the positive side.
On the negative side, there hasn't been nearly as much political reconciliation at the national level as the Americans had hoped. The new development in Iraq and one I think that was largely unanticipated is this new alliance between the American military and former Sunni insurgence.
HANSEN: How has the commitment of U.S. forces in Iraq help that alliance?
Mr. GORDON: You know, there are areas of Iraq where there have not been a large number of American troops in recent years. And what happened is when American forces moved in to these areas and when they stayed in this areas, many of the local Sunnis, including some former insurgents, saw this as an opportunity to forge marriage of convenience with the American troops. And basically take on al-Qaida militants.
HANSEN: Politically, though, the government right now is afraid that the insurgents will turn on them after the mutual enemy, al-Qaida, has been dealt with. How do you get over that conundrum?
Mr. GORDON: Well, it's a very complicated situation. These are Sunnis who are not yet trusted by a Shiite dominated government in Baghdad. And so, what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are trying to do is encourage a kind of bottom-up reconciliation where the government of Iraq works with these newly formed Sunni security organizations across the country and eventually legitimizes them by turning them into police.
HANSEN: To get this story, you endured a 115-degree weather. What is that like?
Mr. GORDON: Nothing special about me enduring it because everybody who was in that country has to endure the same weather. But what the American troops go through is really hard for a lot of people in this country to realize. I don't think they really appreciate all the hardships they put up with.
First of all, the violence has a random quality to it. The principle threat to the troops are these IEDs on the road. You're riding in a vehicle. You can be the best soldier in the world or the worst soldier in the world. It just goes off or it doesn't go off when you happen to be in that vehicle. And very often, it's not that much you can do about it. If the route's been cleared effectively, you might be okay. But if it hasn't been cleared effectively, you might be hit. So the violence is sort of always there. Every time you're on the road, there's that kind of risk and that's what the troops endure.
In terms of like the environmental conditions over the summer, you got 110, 115, 120-degree weather for much of the day. You don't walk around in Bermuda shorts. These guys are required to wear complete set of body amour that easily weighs 50 pounds. Then, you know, the Kevlar helmet, ballistic glasses. Nomex gloves when you're riding in a vehicle because they're fire resistant. Sometimes you have to wear combat earplugs because if one of these bombs goes off, there's a danger you might rupture your eardrum. And then they carry their weapon and all the other stuff that dangles off of them. You know, the battle rattle as they call it. The grenades and the water and the...
HANSEN: The tools, everything.
Mr. GORDON: Everything. And it can be, it can really weigh a lot. The way they try to cope with the weather is - they try to do a lot of their patrolling and operations early morning like, you know, five, 6 a.m. till maybe 10. And then at night, taking advantage of night vision, which they have and insurgents don't. So they would very often begin a patrol at midnight. Go until 5 a.m. And then the afternoon very often becomes downtime because it's just too hot.
HANSEN: You just came back. How many times have you been there during the course of this engagement?
Mr. GORDON: I think I've been there five times. But - you know, I think the longest I've ever stayed without returning to United States who's - maybe three or four months which is in the first phase. And this time I came for two months. I'm going back after the Petraeus-Crocker testimony in September maybe for a month or so. So I go for a chunk a time but nothing like the 15-month tours like the soldiers undergo.
HANSEN: Michael Gordon has just returned form Iraq. His story, "The Former-Insurgent Counterinsurgency," appears in today's New York Times Magazine. Thanks so much for coming in.
Mr. GORDON: All right. Thank you.
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