Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tracking the Surge: Uneasy Silence at COP Charlie, Ghazaliyah

Time reporter Charles Crain writes about an eering silence in Ghazaliyah (see posts on Baghdad Conurbation for general info on Baghdad neighborhoods).

Meanwhile the militia and the insurgents have been finding ways to operate under the radar and out of firing range. On the streets of Ghazaliyah, Sgt. Michaud said, the Mahdi Army continued to "slowly, but surely," force Sunnis from their homes through other forms of intimidation. The more immediate threat, though, may be a spectacular Sunni insurgent attack designed to show residents in Ghazaliyah that their power has not been blunted. "If I'm the enemy: I've lost the initiative," Peterson said. "I've got to do something big and visual."

This suggests that the coordinated attack on the Tarmiya COP and the massive car bomb explotion earlier in the month were related to changing tactics, rather than outright indicators of new strength in the insurgency.

Sadly, however, dividing lines remain:

In Ghazaliyah, northeast of Baghdad's airport, Iraq's savage and complex civil war has been playing out in miniature. Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia has been encroaching from Shula, the Shi'a-dominated neighborhood to the north. The Sunni minority has virtually vanished from northern Gazaliyah, driven away by murder and intimidation. In the heavily-Sunni southern part of the neighborhood homegrown insurgents and foreign jihadists have been attacking the Americans and Shi'a-dominated security forces.

The COP is a short drive from the road that serves as a dividing line between Ghazaliyah's Sunni and Shi'a communities. Moved from its home at Camp Liberty, one of the bases within the sprawling American compound at the airport, Charlie Company fortified a row of houses with concrete, razor wire and plenty of firepower. The COP is the first test of the counter-insurgency strategy the military plans to implement across Baghdad.

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