Saturday, December 30, 2006

Perspective: In Ramadi, no seeking hearts and minds

A house search in Ramadi

RAMADI, IRAQ — The soldiers of Combat Outpost Iron set out to help one Ramadi neighborhood get back to normal. The troops tried to learn local tribal politics. Passed out Beanie Babies. Drank tea. Attempted Arabic.

Lt. Brian Braithwaite said he truly felt they were making a difference.

Then in early November, Braithwaite's Bradley Fighting Vehicle hit a roadside bomb filled with gasoline, setting his gunner on fire. In the muffled intensity of pulling his friend to safety, Braithwaite said he heard sounds coming from the homes of the people they were trying to help. Laughing. Cheering. Celebrating his friend's near-death.

Braithwaite's unit, the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, has been in the capital of western Iraq's Anbar province since June. Most of the guys here can remember the moment when their frustration killed their empathy. When they no longer felt guilty about knocking down doors. No longer cared to hand out candy.

"Hearts and minds," the soldiers shrug. They joke like this often. The few Iraqis still living in Ramadi have had their homes raided and streets patrolled for three years now. Every time a window is broken, a bedroom is trashed or husbands are questioned, the glares become harsher. Compliance with U.S. troops turns to hatred.

Read the rest at the Houston Chronicle