Insurgents frightened into throw and run tactics
Capt. Hussein and the soldiers of the Iraqi Army's 302nd Battalion pick their way down a narrow, trash-filled alleyway in the slums behind Baghdad's Haifa Street. It's a pro-government Shia neighborhood plastered with posters of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and the locals wave and smile as the troops pass through. But the atmosphere changes as the unit crosses into a predominantly Sunni neighborhood. Streets empty, mothers snatch toddlers up off doorsteps and merchants slam down the steel shutters of their shops. The uneasy silence is punctured by the sharp explosion of a grenade, tossed over a wall by insurgents. "They're scared," says Capt. Hussein, referring to the invisible assailants. "Six months ago they would fight, and sometimes win. Now they just throw, and run."
Bringing order to Haifa Street is the sharp end of Iraq's two-year-old battle against insurgents. But since last month, new Iraq Army and police units, not Americans, have been controlling Baghdad's meanest streets. More, they seem to be winning. Just last Thursday, 19 Iraqis died in a pair of car bombings near the Interior Ministry. But insurgent attacks across the whole of Iraq are down to 20 to 30 a day from 50 to 60 before January's elections. Crucially, Iraqi forces are launching more and more of their own operations against insurgents, last week detaining nearly 70 in raids around Baghdad and other cities. "Peace hasn't broken out yet," says Lt. Col. Thomas McDonald of the 1st Battalion 9th Cavalry, who spent much of the past year training the Iraqi units patrolling Haifa Street. "But they're more than holding their own."
Along Haifa Street, it's clear that what ordinary Iraqis want are the basics of good governance—security, sanitation, electricity. There's evidence, too, that even Sunnis are starting to lose patience with the insurgents and trust the Iraqi Army more. According to Lieutenant Colonel Mohsine, the number of tip-offs from locals about car bombs and roadside improvised explosive devices has risen from one a week before the election to several per day. Even more heartening, every week more and more of his men decide not to wear the face-covering ski masks adopted by many Iraqi Army troopers to hide their identity, for fear of reprisals. "We are becoming less afraid," he says.