Thursday, February 15, 2007

Perspective: Soldiers' doubts weigh on Iraq mission

An Iraqi boy talks with a soldier in the Rusafa district of Baghdad, during an operation meant to find auto repair shops making car bombs

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- 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."

Read the rest at the Daily Times