U.S. troops anticipate Shiite militia comeback in Sadr City
Stars and Stripes May 25, 2008
BAGHDAD — There are certain things about this latest cease-fire that do seem different, Pfc. Michael Tanner says, standing outside an armored vehicle idling at a U.S. outpost across the street from the walls surrounding from Sadr City.
"The Iraqi army is actually going in there and nobody’s fighting them," Tanner says, gesturing toward the massive Shiite enclave. "They’re actually doing some good."
The outpost housing Tanner’s unit, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, was one of the first targets of militiamen when fighting broke out on March 25, and it remained a frequent target until a little more than a week ago.
From their pockmarked roof, soldiers here can see that things have quieted down. But few express Tanner’s optimism that they might stay that way.
"I don’t think it’s going to stay quiet," says Pfc. Jeff Pisonero, 20, of Hemet, Calif. "The militias are just refitting. I don’t think it’s going to stay quiet at all."
That view — that Shiite militiamen are simply using the two-week old cease-fire to rearm and resupply — is a widely held one here among lower-ranking troops, who have spent the last two months defending a post where virtually no window remains intact. They’ve taken mortar and rocket fire and fought 30-hour battles from the roof. One vehicle patrol found more than a dozen roadside bombs along a 650-foot stretch of street nearby.
It’s hard to believe that their enemies have decided to quit fighting for good, they say.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a short pause, I’ll put it that way," says Spc. Alden Rodriguez, 24, of Naugatuck, Conn., during a quiet guard shift on the roof.
The unit’s officers express different views. Between the Iraqi government’s willingness to take on Shiite militias and the lack of resistance — so far at least — to the Iraqi army’s move into Sadr City, they see the proverbial window of opportunity.
"I’ve told my soldiers that there is an opportunity now like we haven’t seen since 2004 or 2005," says Capt. Frank Adkinson, Company A’s commander. "I’m very optimistic."
But many soldiers are coming around to that view slowly, if at all. After all, they say, there have been many cease-fires already.
"These people aren’t going to change, we don’t believe," says Spc. Christian Teuta, 28, of Atlanta.
"I might get in trouble for saying this, but we don’t really give a [expletive]. We just want to get everybody back in one piece. We’re not trying to make enemies, but our main goal is to get everybody back alive."
Still, among a few of the soldiers there remains the sense that this cease-fire could — just might — be different.
On the roof, Rodriguez says he’s seen celebrations in some of the areas he patrols just outside Sadr City’s walls.
"A lot of the people we talk to, they want the fighting to stop," he says. "They want it to work."
Tanner, the platoon’s medic, acknowledges that most of his fellow soldiers here don’t share his views.
"But I actually feel different about this one," he says. "The last time the [Iraqi army] went in to Sadr City they got blown all to hell."