STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
If you took a trip across Baghdad today you would notice more checkpoints. The extra stops for drivers come just after a truck bombing that killed 135 people. The checkpoints come just before a change in the U.S. approach to Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi commanders say the command structure is supposed to be in place for an increase of forces. Thousands of extra troops, both Iraqi and American, will try to slow down the killing among Sunni Arabs and the Shias who dominate the government.
NPR's Anne Garrels reports from Baghdad.
ANNE GARRELS: With guns loaded, American officers have fanned out across Baghdad in convoys of Humvees. Together with their Iraqi counterparts, they're making sure everyone from top to bottom is briefed and on board. The number of U.S. and Iraqi troops in Baghdad will double, and this time all Iraqi forces - army and police - will come under a unified command. American forces will be working alongside them. It's hoped this will lead to better control, better coordination, and better results.
Baghdad is split by the Tigris River. The eastern half will be under the Iraqi Army's 9th Division. At a council meeting in Zafaraniya, Iraqi Colonel Yarub(ph), accompanied by his American partners, told local leaders today is the beginning of a new era for the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police.
Colonel YARUB (Iraqi Army): (Through translator) From the 5th of February they should be 100 percent different than whatever they have done in the last years. They are the forces of the right, the forces - the arm of the law. I'm an Iraqi. If someone tells me a Sunni or a Shia, I'm going to detain him. If I'm good and if I care about my country, I mention the word Iraqi only.
GARRELS: Zafaraniya, a predominately Shiite area, is plagued by sectarian killings, kidnappings and bombings, though it's considered relatively safe by Baghdad standards.
Mr. AHMED OGLAGALI(ph) (Councilman, Zafaraniya): (Foreign language spoken)
GARRELS: Zafaraniya councilman Ahmed Oglagali says four of his 26 colleagues have been assassinated. He's impatient for the security plan to be more than just words. Iraqi Colonel Yarub promises it will happen soon. He orders local commanders to tighten security so no illegal armed groups can move around his area of operation.
Colonel YARUB: (Through translator) Plus any vehicle that does not have any license plates numbers - even if he tells you I'm ambassador or president - no numbers, no confirmed documents, you detain him.
GARRELS: Baghdad now bristles with mini armies. Security details attached to political parties and tribes force their way through the streets, guns at the ready, often making it impossible to know who is who. Colonel Yarub says this will not be tolerated in his sector any more.
Colonel YARUB: (Through translator) Any personnel who works in the government have security with him, guards, they don't go in with him. They stay out, he goes by himself inside the sector.
GARRELS: In the past, Iraqi army and police units worked independently and often at crossed purposes. The Americans also often worked on their own. A key part of this plan is the concept of joining them all together. To do this and get more boots in the neighborhoods where they're most needed, Americans and Iraqis are setting up joint security stations where U.S. forces will live and patrol side-by-side with Iraqi army and police units.
U.S. and Iraqi officers check out the new joint security station in Zafaraniya, where U.S. Captain Britton Crofton(ph) will work.
Captain BRITTON CROFTON (U.S. Army): We're still ironing out how we're going to run things. It's not necessarily where we want to be now, but we'll get there. It's just a matter of getting the personnel in and it's a matter of, you know, working with the security forces, showing them, you know, not necessarily how to do things our way, but helping them do things, in a manner.
GARRELS: Iraqi Sergeant Major Abdul Kadum Turki(ph) says his troops are determined to make this plan work.
Sergeant Major ABDUL KADUM TURKI (Iraqi Army): (Through translator) Now look at our brigade, for example. There are Sunnis and Shias together.
GARRELS: With the help of the U.S., he says they'll take on everyone, regardless of sectarian background.
Sergeant Major KADUM TURKI: (Through translator) I'm against any person who would not respect the law. I would really attack any person who did not obey the law, and if it was up to me, kill them immediately, on the spot.
GARRELS: But outside, beyond the tight security perimeter and the hum of Humvees, not everyone supports the new plan. Children taunt the U.S. and Iraqi army officers from the sidelines.
Unidentified Child: (Through translator): We are from the Shia area. Get off, the Iraqi army and your occupiers.
GARRELS: These children echo those who support Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his illegal Mahdi militia. They see the militia as their only reliable source of stability and protection. Sunnis, on the other hand, fear the militias, accusing them of fueling the sectarian attacks. They trust the Americans and some Iraqi troops, but definitely not the police. They believe they're infiltrated by the Shiite militias and death squads. The challenge is to get Iraqis to believe in their security forces.
General Abdullah Mohammed Kamiz(ph) commands the 9th Iraqi Army Division and all the forces now in east Baghdad. He's seen numerous plans fail in the past, but believes this one has a chance because of the increased number of forces he has at his disposal. But problems that bedeviled past plans are still there. While there will be more Iraqi units on the ground, they are still far from full strength. Soldiers' morale is not what General Abdullah would like because of poor supplies, inadequate weapons and the huge risks. Soldiers are abandoning their units.
General ABDULLAH MOHAMMED KAMIZ (Iraqi Army): I think in the late month I notice the number is more than the month before.
GARRELS: To make sure the Iraqi military can field enough soldiers this time, the Ministry of Defense is offering pay bonuses. Colonel Doug Heckman heads up the U.S. transition team working alongside General Abdullah. He acknowledges the military's shortcomings, but says things are better than when he arrived nine months ago.
Colonel DOUG HECKMAN (U.S. Army): They have gone from coalition forces being in the lead and operations orders being written by coalition and then them executing, to them really doing their own operations orders and doing some independent - not all, but some independent - missions.
GARRELS: Heckman says the Iraqis still need the U.S. for added firepower, logistics, intelligence coordination and air support, but he anticipates a gradual evolution during the coming operations.
Colonel HECKMAN: Sometimes the Iraqis will be in the lead; sometimes coalition will be in the lead; sometimes it will start out Iraqis in the lead, then we'll have to jump in. That's okay. The name of the game in the next few months is bringing stability and control to the city of Baghdad so that the government can stand up, impose its will and have a chance to flex its muscles so that we can, in part, get out of here, I guess.
GARRELS: In the long run up to the surge there's evidence some militias and insurgents have gone underground rather than face stepped-up operations. Heckman acknowledges there's a risk these groups might try to wait out the surge, only to reemerge later.
Colonel HECKMAN: Even the worst case here - that they go underground - we're buying valuable time to build this confidence, to stand up the forces, to get them better, so to speak.
GARRELS: Colonel Heckman calls this America's last chance.
Colonel HECKMAN: In honor of the Super Bowl, it's the fourth quarter. We're losing and there's only a few minutes left in the game. But we have the ball, and it's a long drive, but we have a chance to make the drive to win the game here.
GARRELS: Like the president, Heckman asks for patience, warning it could well be the end of summer before anyone can say if the surge is working or not.
Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad.
INSKEEP: We've put together an interactive timeline charting the Iraq war and its human cost. You can find it at npr.org.
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