Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Perspective: 'No Iraqi army unit would respond'

Above: A saw gunner with the 82nd Airborne Division pulls security in the neighborhood just after the establishment of the 'Joint Security Station' in Kadhimiya in February.

The platoon of American soldiers was pinned down in an alley outside the holiest Shiite shrine in western Baghdad's Kadhimiyah neighborhood. Machine-gun fire sprayed from apartment windows and rooftops with a deafening clatter. The troops were 15 yards from their Humvees, but they didn't know if they could survive the dash.

Less than a mile away, a powerful Shiite parliament member stood inside an American military base, in the office of the Iraqi army brigade commander responsible for Kadhimiyah. The Americans had called for Iraqi army backup, but according to the brigade commander and American officers, the lawmaker would help ensure that no assistance arrived from the Iraqis that crucial day.

"No Iraqi army unit, of the 2,700 Iraqi security forces that are in Kadhimiyah, no Iraqi army unit would respond," said Lt. Col. Steven Miska, a deputy brigade commander based in this Shiite enclave of 200,000 people on the western shore of the Tigris River. "It shows you how difficult it is to root out the militia influence when they've got political top-cover."

The two-hour firefight under the golden domes of the Musa al-Kadhim shrine on April 29 left at least eight Iraqis dead. While no Americans were injured, it marked the start of the deterioration of security in Kadhimiyah, once one of Baghdad's safest neighborhoods. It also made plain -- "the first time the complicity was staring us right in the face," as one American soldier put it -- that the Iraqi army's problem in the area was about more than just being under-trained or ill-equipped.

Read the rest at the Washington Post