U.S. Commanders Encourage Shiite-Sunni Truce Amid ongoing sectarian violence, the catch phrase for the U.S. military in Iraq today is "neighborhood reconciliation." The daily death toll reveals what a challenge that is. But there is some success to report in Baghdad communities where U.S. army units are based, as company commanders try to get Sunnis and Shiites to talk to each other.
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U.S. Commanders Encourage Shiite-Sunni Truce

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U.S. Commanders Encourage Shiite-Sunni Truce

U.S. Commanders Encourage Shiite-Sunni Truce

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

In Iraq, amid the ongoing sectarian violence, the catch phrase for the U.S. military is neighborhood reconciliation. But the daily death toll reveals what a challenge that is. Just today in Baghdad, there was a suicide car bombing outside a park. It killed four people and wounded some two dozen, including many women and children.

Fifty miles north near Balad, there was another car bomb that killed six members of a tribal police force. And the list goes on - a roadside bomb in Kirkuk, a drive-by shooting in Kut.

But there is some success to report in the communities where U.S. Army units are based as company commanders try to get Sunnis and Shiites to talk to each other.

NPR's Anne Garrels has this report on what is a block-by-block effort to bring reconciliation.

AHMED(ph) (Shiite): (Through translator) I want to scream with joy. It's happiness I can't describe.

ANNE GARRELS: Ahmed and Udei(ph), two friends from childhood, are meeting for the first time in over a year. Ahmed, a Shiite, is ecstatic as they sit in his living room. Udei, a Sunni, has made the gigantic move of coming over into the Shiite neighborhood. He's clearly nervous, even as his old friend's come in to hug and kiss him.

UBEI (Sunni): (Through translator) Thank God we're friends again.

GARRELS: For a year, they couldn't cross a three-lane road separating their houses in the Amil district of Baghdad. The street where they once played soccer together became 40 feet of hell. Both neighborhoods are riddled with bullet holes and memories of funerals. Shops are still shuttered.

Udei describes how his Sunni section of Amil was encircled with Moqtada al-Sadr Shiite Militia.

UBEI: (Through translator) During the siege, a tomato or a cucumber became a dream. We were surrounded by Shiite militias. They cut off the water and the electricity. We couldn't get gas or kerosene either.

GARRELS: Udei says he took up arms against Shiites after his brother was killed by Sadr's militiamen. His best friend, Ahmed, joined the Shiite militia to protect his block. But Ahmed says, increasingly, Sadr's militia has been hijacked by criminals and special groups backed by Iran.

AHMED: (Through translator) Moqtada now bans them. The real militia doesn't agree with the way they were working. They killed Sunnis and then they started killing fellow Shiites for money.

GARRELS: The U.S. military recently arrested one of the most dangerous militiaman up here in north Amil. It was only then that Shiite leaders would dare think of reconciliation talks. Udei says an initial meeting between Shiite and Sunni leaders a week ago has brought about a transformation in his Sunni area.

UDEI: (Through translator) For a week, we haven't heard bullets or mortars. There are people cleaning the street. I can't believe what's happening.

GARRELS: But the transformation has taken hold in only a few blocks of this six square mile area.

Captain SEAN LYONS (U.S. Army): Roger that, monitor. And we're going over that (unintelligible) and do a link up with Iraqi army first and we'll…

GARRELS: Captain Shawn Lyons and soldiers of the two-way team infantry patrol all of Amil. The Sadr office is not openly participating in the reconciliation talks. But Lyons says some Sadrists must be giving the quiet go ahead.

Capt. LYONS: They don't have any contact with (unintelligible) forces. At the same time during this reconciliation process, they are not preventing anything to my knowledge - yet.

GARRELS: It was a break point just two weeks ago. In north Amil, Shiite community leaders came forward and signed a ceasefire agreement with the Sunni side. Others have now asked for meetings.

Thirty-year-old Captain Lyons asked these Shiite leaders again and again the same question.

Capt. LYONS: Are you the leaders of that area that you seek for the population?

Unidentified Man: (Speaking in foreign language)

GARRELS: These Shiite leaders meeting with him say yes.

Capt. LYONS: Now, do you have the capability - the ability to control what happens in your area?

GARRELS: As the Shiite leaders again say, yes. Yes. Lyons interrupts.

Capt. LYONS: There's a roadside bomb right here, right now.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking in foreign language)

Capt. LYONS: That's in your neighborhood? Who put that bomb there?

GARRELS: The Shiite leaders say must have been the Sunnis. Lyons pointed the map again showing exactly where it is. A place no Sunni would dare go. And what really angers him is that it's a place where U.S. troops would be easily hit.

Capt. LYONS: It's right there. Who put that freaking bomb there?

GARRELS: Lyons says until these Shiite leaders accept responsibility for their neighborhood, he can provide no help on reconstruction or services. On the eve of the Shiite-Sunni reconciliation talks, Shiite militiamen launched rockets from Amil. It may have been an attempt to disrupt the talks. They hit the huge U.S. base near the airport killing two U.S. soldiers and wounding 35 others. Captain Lyons raced to the launch site - an abandoned schoolyard.

Capt. LYONS: This is really a pretty crappy area. I'm surprised we haven't gotten attacked yet.

GARRELS: There are a dozen home-made rocket launchers linked by wires.

Capt. LYONS: They'll use that and they'll launch out 107 millimeter rocket off. Pretty ingenious little device. Three months ago, we found a manufacturing place that was manufacturing these, hundreds and hundreds of these things. Anyway, they've put them on there and they have initiators and they daisy-chained them up, rig them up, and set a remote timer, initiate the timer and then leave.

GARRELS: As long as militia attacks like this continue, Lyons remains skeptical about Moqtada Sadr's commitment to reconciliation.

Capt. LYONS: The other night we did a raid. We got 31 of the Katyusha rockets and the insurgents' guide to using scissor jack stands with 107 millimeter rockets.

GARRELS: The soldiers also found what they call Google Shots.

Capt. LYONS: They use Google Earth, and they plot how they're going to fire them. Pretty resourceful.

GARRELS: Lyons calls in military investigators to collect fingerprints from the launchers.

Capt. LYONS: He needs to ensure that he can still get prints of these (censored by network). Once we're down here, we're going to go down south and raid a couple of houses that supposedly are linked to this. Now, we'll do some fingerprint matching.

GARRELS: In addition to everything else, Captain Shawn Lyons is a detective. Lyons says Shiites in this part of Amil remain frightened of coming forward. While the Sadr office just a few blocks to the north may be supporting reconciliation talks, militias operating here are not. Some people here who've talked to soldiers have been murdered.

Standing in the dark on this nighttime raid, Sergeant David Solis(ph) wanders at these tentative steps to reconcile Sunnis and Shiites in Amil can really take hold by the time he leaves in another seven months.

Sergeant DAVID SOLIS (U.S. Army): They'll have days and weeks of just them getting along. And all of a sudden it's like they're fighting again. So that thing is the most frustrating for me.

Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad.

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