web counter Media Lies: Living in the dead zone

Sunday, January 02, 2005

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Living in the dead zone

American troops have moved in to Haifa street. That's right, US troops have moved in right in the middle of the bad guys' territory. This should get real interesting.
Just two miles from the American Embassy ensconced within a walled-off downtown enclave, there is an area of Baghdad swarming with criminals, insurgents and terrorists.

Three Iraqi election workers were pulled from a car there last month, executed during morning rush-hour traffic at a busy intersection. The attackers didn't even bother to wear masks.

Combat engineers set up concrete blast walls and 'Texas barriers,' so named because of their size, around the walled-off palace to ward off bombings.

The slums and high-rises nearby are scrawled with anti-American graffiti. And some parts are too dangerous for coalition soldiers to enter in armored Humvees – only Bradley armored personnel carriers are used.

This is Haifa Street. A few days ago, American soldiers started calling it home.
Our troops are serious about getting the job done, but they've also got a great sense of humor.
Along these streets they've renamed Grenade Alley and Purple Heart Lane, soldiers have ripped down black banners belonging to followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, and uniforms for the Iraqi security forces left twisting in the wind like scarecrows.

In the weeks before Operation Field of Dreams, insurgents threw as many as 34 grenades a week at patrolling soldiers. More than 140 from the battalion have been wounded since they arrived in April, and five have died.

On the first night of the operation, Apache helicopter gunships buzzed the rooftops, Bradleys patrolled barricaded streets with cannons aimed, and about half the battalion's soldiers descended on the palace.

While infantrymen defended the perimeter, engineers worked through the night placing tall concrete blast walls around the already walled-off palace. They set "Texas barriers," named because of their large size, into the gap left from an earlier car bomb and used massive portable bridges to block traffic to the area.

In the morning, the 82nd Airborne Division soldiers went to work on the inside of the palace. They stacked sandbags in the windows, and someone slapped a Bush-Cheney campaign sticker over the entryway.
(Emphasis mine.) You gotta love the American soldier. In the midst of grave danger, they always find a way to inject some humor. (The 82nd Airborne ain't just your average infantry unit either.)

The terrorists (I refuse to dignify these murderers by calling them insurgents) have attacked, but they've gotten the worst of it.
The insurgents did attack during the all-day, all-night three-day mission, though with far less ferocity than Task Force 1/9 had faced in recent weeks.

No Iraqis had been willing to work the cranes for the Americans on Haifa Street, but the military operators were unmolested and finished ahead of schedule the first night. Iraqi police waged a five-minute gunbattle on the perimeter, but no enemy forces penetrated the palace work area.

The next day two soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division's Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment were wounded, one of them seriously, when insurgents attacked the outer defenses with grenades and an rocket-propelled grenade. On the third day, U.S. soldiers killed three insurgents who were trying to attack with grenades and guns.

The paratroopers from Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 325th Regiment, who are now living at the palace and patrolling the surrounding area, said they are used to landing in hostile territory.

Last week, at least 12 insurgents were killed in patrols that "were a mini shock and awe for them," said Sgt. Patrick Thompson, 36, of Seattle. "I think they're still recoiling back and trying to recover."

"They're cowards. They run up, fire a couple weapons, they don't even aim, and they run off," said Lt. Peter Young, 27, from Cameron, Texas.

Some of their foes are more experienced and have staged coordinated attacks. And the soldiers expect them to do their best to unsettle the country before the elections scheduled for Jan. 30.
Maybe the criminals who executed the Iraqi election workers in the middle of Haifa street will meet their fate soon. Wouldn't that be a fitting end for them?

The Airborne soldiers aren't alone, by the way.
Now they do battalion-sized "Haifa smack-down" missions every few days and patrol daily through varying neighborhoods with Iraqi national guardsmen or on their own.

Some experts have argued that overpowering military force, like that used in the onslaught of Fallujah, may backfire by alienating civilians.

But Task Force 1/9 commander Lt. Col. Thomas Macdonald, 41, originally from Columbus, Ga., said he is confident that aggressive combat operations combined with extensive reconstruction projects will stabilize Haifa Street and eventually the country.
One of the soldiers said they were "pretty much shooting all day". So what does one Airborne Colonel have to say about Haifa street?
On the first night of Operation Field of Dreams, Col. Macdonald stopped beside the palace to enjoy the view.

"It's beautiful out here, isn't it? The full moon, by the river, and the trees. You could almost imagine sitting here having a glass of wine," he said.

The colonel sounded as if his vision for the future of Iraq was still a distant but attainable dream. After all, one of the last times he stopped for tea on Haifa Street, insurgents threw grenades at him.
You can sleep peacefully tonight because the Colonel Macdonalds of this country shrug off grenade attacks and day-long firefights and see the beauty in the midst of evil.