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I can imagine a scenario where various media outlets "divvied up" the President's speech at Annapolis, each claming a critical passage to do their best to discredit. This didn't happen, of course, but it's not hard to picture them printing the speech, cutting it into sections, and throwing them into a hat from which they each drew their assignments. CNN/Time-Warner got the part about Iraqi forces taking the lead in Tal Afar, and the very next paragraph in the speech went to the LA Times.
As Iraqi forces increasingly take the lead in the fight against the terrorists, they're also taking control of more and more Iraqi territory. At this moment, over 30 Iraqi Army battalions have assumed primary control of their own areas of responsibility. In Baghdad, Iraqi battalions have taken over major sectors of the capital -- including some of the city's toughest neighborhoods. Last year, the area around Baghdad's Haifa Street was so thick with terrorists that it earned the nickname "Purple Heart Boulevard." Then Iraqi forces took responsibility for this dangerous neighborhood -- and attacks are now down.
Here's the headline the LA Times came up with: Baghdad's Haifa Still No Easy Street
Violence has ebbed on the road once known as Purple Heart Boulevard since Iraqi soldiers took over, but there is still cause for anxiety.
And here's their thesis:
The potholes have been filled, and the twisted car chasses are gone. On Thursday, Iraqi soldiers drove by in pickup trucks and conducted foot patrols without incident.Then Times Staff Writer Ashraf Khalil drew the short straw, and had to confirm it.
But a brief visit to Haifa Street also provides a reminder that "safe" remains a relative concept in Iraq.
Note this paragraph from the story:
Haifa Street was developed in large part during the reign of Saddam Hussein. He handed out apartments for free to Baath Party cadres, intelligence officers and hundreds of Palestinian and Syrian immigrants — which meant by definition that almost every resident was a Hussein loyalist.We'll return to that Times story shortly, but first with that paragraph in mind let's look back at a year on Haifa street.
Last November we "met" SGT Rowe Stayton, US Army, on Haifa street:
An Air Force Academy graduate and former F-15 fighter pilot, then-Major Stayton left the Air National Guard 17 years ago to run his civilian law practice in Denver and rear his six children. But his life changed not long after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when he enlisted in the Arkansas Army National Guard in what he says was an act of patriotism.Stayton's unit had the unenviable task of patrolling one of the worst streets in Baghdad. How bad was it?
Now Sergeant Stayton, 53, is leading three other soldiers young enough to be his sons on an infantry fire team that regularly runs combat patrols in the Haifa Street section of Baghdad, one of the riskiest missions in the Iraqi capital. More than a third of the 119 soldiers in his Guard unit, Company C of the First Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment, have been awarded Purple Hearts for being wounded in action since they arrived here in April.
BAGHDAD, Iraq Dec 19, 2004 — A brazen daylight attack in the heart of Baghdad with rebels executing election workers in cold blood served as a chilling reminder Sunday of the deteriorating security situation in the Iraqi capital with just more than a month before crucial parliamentary elections.And while bloggers would question the (ahem) luck of that AP photographer, the pictures would earn a Pulitzer Prize.
A series pictures taken by an AP photographer show three pistol-wielding gunmen, who had earlier stopped a car carrying the election officials and dragged them into the middle of Haifa Street in the midst of morning traffic.
Meanwhile, those Arkansas Guardsmen soldiered on, as I discovered in my interview with JR Shultz (Iraq Unplugged)
GH: What was your mission in Iraq?Indeed - by February the Iraqis had responsibility for the street. And according to the New York Times, this was Haifa Street in August 2005:
JR: I was pulled from my squad to join a team of cadre who were responsible for training an Iraqi National Guard unit. At the beginning of our deployment, we were conducting training drills inside the perimeter of our FOB, and by the end we were accompanying elements from the ING unit on operations in the Haifa St. area of Baghdad. I can't speak for any other unit, but these guys made a lot of progress in the year that we worked with them.
An American-Iraqi military campaign, begun last year to retake the street, seemed to bear fruit as insurgents were captured, killed or driven out of the area. On Feb. 6, the American command handed over a cut of north-central Baghdad, including Haifa Street, to the 1st Brigade, 6th Division, of the Iraqi army.Although no one questioned the NY Times report last summer, the President's bold claim that "attacks are now down" has launched an investigation by the LA Times.
This transfer made the 1st Brigade the first and only Iraqi army unit to control its own battle space, putting it on the leading edge of the Bush administration's plan to have Iraqi forces take responsibility for the country's security.
The good news for American officials is that the Iraqi troops have not lost ground on Haifa Street. Since the 1st Brigade took control, there have been only three insurgent attacks along the street, and those came in the first three weeks, commanders say.
Pro-Iraqi army graffiti has begun to appear on walls that for months had been adorned exclusively with anti-American slogans. Residents now socialize outside their buildings and say they feel safer walking along the street. People who fled their apartments have started to trickle back, and pedestrian and vehicular traffic, while still thin compared with other major thoroughfares, is slowly returning.
Reporter Khalil notes that because of "lasting associations" with the name of the street, the op would be "deep cover":
Still, the name carries lasting associations, and a visit by a Western journalist required an even greater-than-usual level of security planning.But that wouldn't fool the Iraqi security forces:
Bringing a translator would be too conspicuous, so my flawed Egyptian-accented Arabic would have to do. No English would be spoken anywhere and no mention made of America, but a guard would accompany me.
During the interview with Akram, he took note of my mongrel Arabic, narrowed his eyes, and said: "He's not Egyptian. That's a lie."Of course, this is exactly what we would hope an Iraqi officer would do to protect this volatile street from visits from al Qaeda, but Khalil fails to give him credit for the catch. Instead he notes cryptically that "For outsiders, though, the dangers remain real."
More from Sgt Akram:
Now, he boasted, his soldiers can sit in coffee shops without fear.Possible pointing was the most violent act he encountered that day. But check that headline again: "Baghdad's Haifa Still No Easy Street - Violence has ebbed on the road once known as Purple Heart Boulevard since Iraqi soldiers took over, but there is still cause for anxiety."
"The Americans with all their heavy weapons couldn't control this area. It took Iraqi minds and experience," said Ali, who complimented the U.S. training they received.
Akram said Iraqi soldiers and residents had since found their comfort level and that soldiers who used to come to work with their uniforms in a bag now hail taxis from outside the base.
The interview ended on a positive note, with Akram giving us apples for the road. But we left the scene quickly after the driver, who had watched with mounting alarm, called our attention to two dubious figures on the edge of the crowd who were pointing at our cars.
Rattled, our two-car mini-convoy sped off, as the neighborhood started to feel like enemy territory.
Total time spent on Haifa Street: maybe 75 minutes. It felt a lot longer.
Indeed. Pointing - that's rude. They used to point at people on Haifa Street last year too:
No progress at all...
This is very similar to the imagined story from 2007 after the fighting is over. The Lame Stream Media calls the war a failure because there are still three (3) unhappy Sunnis.
I expect nothing less and hope for so much more.Posted by Dave at December 3, 2005 09:57 PM
The linked LA Times article is absurd. The guy turned up exactly no evidence of anything other than police vigilence and his own paranoia.Posted by TigerHawk at December 3, 2005 10:39 PM
I am a friend of Rowe Stayton and was one of many of his former fellow officers in the Des Moines Air National Guard who honored him at a gathering after his return to the US last year.
While he was in Iraq, he told me that the Iraqi soldiers were making good progress and the success of Haifa Street today is evidence of Rowe's statement.
Rowe is one of the toughest, bravest men I've ever met and his unique service is in the highest tradition of American fighting men and women. He is a man who not only believes, but LIVES "Duty Honor Country."Posted by Les at December 3, 2005 10:52 PM
Hey, don't knock the danger that guy was in.
Those two guys might have been members of the "Index Fingers of Righteousness Brigades."Posted by seguin at December 4, 2005 04:54 AM
I saw where someone had interviewed JR Shultz. JR helped train the Iraqis and I saw first hand the improvement the Iraqis had made in the year we were there. They (Iraqis) went from a group of guys with little or no weapon discipline, to a force that conducted operations inside our outer perimeter we (US Forces) established. On one mission in particular, they went into a neighborhood right off Haifa and found a large cache of weapons because the locals told them where the weapons were hidden. The locals never told us where weapons were located. I could see the "pride" the Iraqis had in their local forces.
SSGT Rowe Stayton