Saturday, May 12, 2007

Perspective: Life in the 'Triangle of Death'

Iraqi soldiers on a joint mission with U.S. troops in April prepare to enter a house during a night raid somewhere in the farm lands of the 'Triangle of Death', defined by the towns of Iskandariyah, Latifah and Mahmoudiya -- where 5 troops were killed and 3 are missing after an insurgent attack today.

The Americans didn't attempt to patrol the so-called "triangle of death" around the town of Yusifiyah, about 25 miles south-west of Baghdad, until last year. Before that it was a no-go area, ruled by tribal chiefs. Even now, when you move through the area, it reminds you of John Boorman's film Deliverance; you never know what will be around the next corner.

I'm embedded with the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, who have a base in Yusifiyah and are setting up smaller bases in the surrounding countryside. Yusifiyah is predominantly Shia; the areas around it, populated by farmers, are largely Sunni. Both groups are hostile to the Americans: used to autonomy, they recognise this as an occupation.

The area is full of palms and irrigation ditches. To the American foot patrols, having to watch out for mines and snipers, it must feel like Vietnam. At first they had great difficulty establishing bases in the countryside and suffered heavy casualties, but the bases are now more secure. The "surge" in troop levels is paying off in terms of greater stability - the sheer size of the military bootprint guarantees that. But can it be sustained? The troops are doing longer terms of duty; morale seems low...

Read the rest at the Guardian