Megan Ortagus from Freedom's Watch is in Iraq with the troops reporting on the continuing counter-insurgency operations. And definitely head over to NRO and read Pete Hegseth's piece on the same city.
Special thanks to CPT Smith, LT Acosta, CPT Reinke, TSGT Anthony, TS Huffey and A1C Callaway for the bird’s eye view of Baghdad.
Reporting from Doura
Doura is located in Rasheed, a district in southern Baghdad, and before the Surge was a case study on insurgency and asymmetrical warfare.
Prior to the Surge, Sunni residents sided with AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) because they feared for the lives of their families from competing Shia militias that promised the same indiscriminate killings. For security, Doura Sunnis looked to AQI for protection and many even gambled with blood money – planting IEDs to kill Americans for $50 – just to feed their families. However, by December 2006, AQI’s ruthless and inhumane tactics eventually wore on the minds of the predominately peaceful community and they looked to the U.S. military for protection.
It was clear that winning the hearts and minds of the population required a binary strategy: dismantling AQI’s operating abilities and protecting the population.
Doura had been cleared (killing and capturing of the enemy) several times during Operation Together Forward I & II in 2006, but the gains never held. Insurgents would creep back in once the Coalition Forces left the mullahs and returned to their base.
From January to July 2007, 5 surge battalions again cleared Doura but this time there was no rush back to base. Instead, Joint Security Stations were established in partnership with the Iraqi Security Forces. With a heavy presence of Coalition Forces, the population began to return to a cautious-yet-normal life: shops re-opened, schools held regular class times and a feeling of community began to flourish.
There’s no question that life remains difficult, and the tenuous gains still need maturation before any serious drawdown of American troops should be considered. In every Iraqi home I visited, the locals knew the American soldiers accompanying me by name. They offered us tea and told us of family life, but begged for the U.S. to stay and protect them. As the debate over the Iraq War continues, it is the Doura residents who will have to live with the tragic consequences of premature withdrawal.
Having spoken with commanders at all levels, it is clear that the 2007 victories were more exceptional than anticipated. Despite this incredible progress, the work ahead will be long, arduous and will take the dedication of America’s best and brightest to finish what we started.