Saturday, February 03, 2007

Journalistic melange: Three sides to the same story

I cobbled together these three accounts of the joint effort on Haifa street, Baghdad, on January 24th.

The contrast between them was stark enough to illustrate the difficulty of getting decision quality information, I thought. And, in other ways, taken together, they are a microcosm of reporting and analysis challenges.

From the USG, the official recap:

Iraqis, Coalition reestablish security on Haifa
Saturday, 27 January 2007
Story and photo by Spc. Shea Butler
7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Jan.24.BAGHDAD — The company of Soldiers starts the day before the sun, knowing in the back of their minds that it is going to be a long day full of fire fights with the enemy. As grenades detonate around them and bullets fly by, they target the enemy and engage immediately, proving that “courage is the absence of fear.

For the second time in the past several weeks, Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division teamed up with Iraqi Army troops to take on insurgents on Haifa Street, in Baghdad’s Karkh district Jan. 24.

The Haifa Street operation, dubbed Operation Tomahawk Strike 11, aimed to disrupt insurgents in order to establish security, said Capt. Isaac Torres, commander, Company C, 1-23 Inf.

The Soldiers started the operation at 3 a.m. when they gathered for pre-combat inspections, received the updated status of the area of operation and piled in their Strykers. They were prepared for a long day. They expected enemy fire
While the NCOs were vigilant, the junior enlisted troops didn’t need much guidance. They have been in similar dangerous fire fights.

“They have all been in enough fire fights to know what is going on,” McCallum said. “They know all the rules of engagement.”

Training is part of what helped these Soldiers through the long day, but adrenaline helped too.

“It was a long day but there was so much adrenaline it made easier,” he said. “We took shots through some windows and adrenaline really kicked in. We immediately got on line, located the enemy and suppressed fire.”

Firing slowed down greatly towards the end of the day. When the smoke cleared, 21 insurgents had been detained and a weapons cache uncovered.

“The mission was a success,” Torres said. “The enemy was greatly disrupted and the Iraqi Army and coalition forces made an impact”

From a combo of embedded and desk reporting (apparently), from the NYT (take notice, at the end, how one Iraqi soldiers knows and apparently dislikes the accountability role of reporters):

In a New Joint U.S.-Iraqi Patrol, the Americans Go First

BAGHDAD, Jan. 24 — In the battle for Baghdad, Haifa Street has changed hands so often that it has taken on the feel of a no man’s land, the deadly space between opposing trenches. On Wednesday, as American and Iraqi troops poured in, the street showed why it is such a sensitive gauge of an urban conflict marked by front lines that melt into confusion, enemies with no clear identity and allies who disappear or do not show up at all.

In a miniature version of the troop increase that the United States hopes will secure the city, American soldiers and armored vehicles raced onto Haifa Street before dawn to dislodge Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias who have been battling for a stretch of ragged slums and mostly abandoned high rises. But as the sun rose, many of the Iraqi Army units who were supposed to do the actual searches of the buildings did not arrive on time, forcing the Americans to start the job on their own.

When the Iraqi units finally did show up, it was with the air of a class outing, cheering and laughing as the Americans blew locks off doors with shotguns
. As the morning wore on and the troops came under fire from all directions, another apparent flaw in this strategy became clear as empty apartments became lairs for gunmen who flitted from window to window and killed at least one American soldier, with a shot to the head.


“This place is a failure,” Sergeant Biletski said. “Every time we come here, we have to come back.”

He paused, then said, “Well, maybe not a total failure,” since American troops have smashed opposition on Haifa Street each time they have come in.

With that, Sergeant Biletski ran through the billowing yellow smoke and took up a new position.

In this surreal setting, about 20 American soldiers were forced at one point to pull themselves one by one up a canted tin roof by a dangling rubber hose and then shimmy along a ledge to another hut. The soldiers were stunned when a small child suddenly walked out of a darkened doorway and an old man started wheezing and crying somewhere inside.

Ultimately the group made it back to the high rises and escaped the sniper in the alley by throwing out the smoke bombs and sprinting to safety. Even though two Iraqis were struck by gunfire, many of the rest could not stop shouting and guffawing with amusement as they ran through the smoke.

One Iraqi soldier in the alley pointed his rifle at an American reporter and pulled the trigger. There was only a click: the weapon had no ammunition. The soldier laughed at his joke.


Last, a newsview reinforced by a slant (a good one, IMO), of the consequence of sectarian divisions for most (if not all) decision making inside Iraq:

We Might 'Win', But Still Lose: Lt. Col. Steven Duke says the Mahdi Army is 'sitting on the 50-yard line, eating popcorn, watching us do their work for them.'

Administration officials have pointed to last week's fighting against Sunni insurgents in and around Baghdad's Haifa Street as a textbook example of the new strategy. Iraqi forces took the lead, American troops backed them up and the government did not put up any obstacles. The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger concluded that the battle "looked like a successful test of unified [American-Iraqi] effort."

But did it? NEWSWEEK's Michael Hastings, embedded with an American advisory team that took part in the fighting, reports that no more than 24 hours after the battle began on Jan. 6, the brigade's Sunni commander, Gen. Razzak Hamza, was relieved of his command. The phone call to fire him came directly from the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite. Lt. Col. Steven Duke, commander of a U.S. advisory team working with the Iraqis, and a 20-year Army veteran, describes Hamza as "a true patriot [who] would go after the bad guys on either side." Hamza was replaced by a Shiite.

Newsweek, Zakaria

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