Sunday, January 21, 2007

Perspective: Baghdad's Ground Zero

Boy with toy gun in Baghdad's Sadr City

If you want to know whether a surge of U.S. troops in Baghdad will make a difference, listen to Iraqis like taxi driver Ali Mansoor, 38. Last fall Mansoor's neighborhood in central Baghdad, a mixed Shi'ite-Sunni area known as al-Sadoon, became a sectarian killing zone. The streets around his house were the scene of scores of murders and abductions every day. And then, for one week last October, the violence stopped. "There was a big change in the security situation. Everybody noticed," says Mansoor, who asked not to be identified by his real name. "In my area, there was not a single kidnapping or killing."

So what happened? For the first time since the war began, U.S. forces had locked down the Baghdad slum known as Sadr City, haven to the militias and death squads loyal to rebel Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Looking for a missing U.S. soldier, the Americans cordoned off much of Sadr City, preventing hundreds of killers from slipping out. On Oct. 24, the daily murder rate fell roughly 50%. It stayed down for more than a week, until Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded that the U.S. end the blockade around Sadr City. After the U.S. pulled out, the body count in Baghdad returned to its previous levels, and life for Iraqis like Mansoor became hell again. "I think most of the bad guys came from Sadr City," says Mansoor. "The Americans should attack that place today, not tomorrow."

Read the rest at Time