BAGHDAD (AP) – Soldiers spearheading the increase in U.S. forces in Baghdad are papering car windows and storefronts with purple stickers listing telephone numbers and an e-mail address where Iraqis can send intelligence tips to help stop the violence.
But if a recent sweep in search of car bomb makers is an indication, they have a long way to go to improve intelligence.
Soldiers from the Army’s 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment converged this week on a religiously mixed north Baghdad neighborhood of auto parts stores and “chop shops” that Iraqi commanders believed was used to rig deadly car bombs.
Moving door to door, Iraqi and U.S. soldiers smashed padlocks with sledge hammers, clipped through wire gates and rifled through hundreds of buildings as Iraqi mechanics, their hands slick with grease and motor oil, peered from nearby shops.
Instead of discovering a network of clandestine car bomb factories, the soldiers instead found only a few Kalashnikov rifles, eight grenades and some wire.
“We’re told this new surge is going to be more intelligence-based instead of just hitting random sites,” said Staff Sgt. Jamie Slagle, 31, of Morrisville, Mo., as he flipped through a stack of unused stickers. “But that’s what seems to me to still be going on.”
U.S. officials have urged Iraqis to be patient and have cautioned that the new security operation could take months to show results. That’s a hard message to swallow for Iraqis who have endured years of violence – including a triple car-bombing yesterday that killed at least 78 people in the heart of the capital.
The U.S. military has advertised some successes, including the discovery of 14 weapons caches during a series of raids and patrols in Baghdad during the week that ended last Friday. On Thursday, U.S. and Iraqi troops arrested two members of a car bomb-making cell in Amiriyah, a Sunni neighborhood near Baghdad airport, the command said.
But for the soldiers of the 23rd Regiment, the results of the new phase have been disappointing so far. Some of them fear that the delays in kicking off the new security operation may have given Sunni and Shiite extremists time to flee the capital or hide their weapons.
“Why are they sending us ground pounding?” asked Spc. Kevin Gibson, 26, of Shiloh, Ohio, as he slumped on a dusty couch in an abandoned office after a day of futile searches.
What still seems lacking, soldiers say, is good intelligence – and cooperation from Iraqis themselves.
“It’s like a 50-50 game. Fifty percent is good intelligence and 50 percent is just plain bull,” said Spc. Brett Rochon, 22, of Ansonia, Conn. “You’ve got a better chance of walking around the street.”
Since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, U.S. military officers have been courting tribal leaders, repairing schools, clearing streets and making contacts.