Saturday, May 24, 2003
Fresh Troops Taking Control of Baghdad
By CHRIS TOMLINSON
Associated Press Writer
May 24, 2003, 3:58 PM EDT
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Staff Sgt. Bryce Ivings spent Saturday giving the grand tour of his adopted neighborhood: Here were the Iraqi civilians he worked with so closely, here were the generators that power the place, here was the water main still so desperately in need of repair.
Fresh troops had arrived, and it was time to hand over control -- and to introduce the man replacing him. The soldiers who won the war were leaving, and the ones charged with maintaining the fragile peace were coming in.
Ivings' unit -- A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment -- arrived April 7 and captured two presidential palaces in the Tashri Quarter, the heart of Baghdad where the ruling elite once lived. When they moved into a former Baath Party building, the 50 houses around it were abandoned and looted.
Since then, the neighborhood has come back to life.
Most of the civil servants and retirees who lived around A Company's command post have moved home and started rebuilding their lives. And the infantrymen have become part of the community, providing security, restoring electricity and rehabilitating schools.
Now that Ivings and his company are scheduled to leave in coming days, he is helping the Iraqis get to know the new soldier responsible for the neighborhood -- Staff Sgt. Andrew Bishop of Piedmont, W.Va.
The first resident Bishop meets is Ali Jamal, head of the neighborhood's watch group. Ivings explains how the Army pays Jamal $3 a day to lead an unarmed group of men who each get $2 a day to make repairs and determine who belongs in the neighborhood.
"If they need wire for the neighborhood -- to connect houses to the generators -- we give them a pass to go to the warehouse," Ivings tells Bishop.
The soldiers control an agricultural warehouse where building materials were stored.
Then Ivings introduces Ali Radhi, a civil engineer who has helped the soldiers connect diesel generators from bombed-out government buildings to neighborhood houses. He operates a generator in his front yard that powers a dozen homes through wires strung across streets and over tree limbs.
The men immediately discuss the lack of water caused by a water main break in a private zoo owned by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's son, Odai.
As the men talk, teenagers in white-and-navy school uniforms walk by, one of them a girl escorted to school by her father. Iraqis drive up to the checkpoint at the main intersection and show their passes to soldiers, who wave them through.
Ivings, of Sarasota, Fla., takes Bishop and the new soldiers from C Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry through the neighborhood. He shows them where his men found Odai Hussein's private gun collection, where more than 6,000 pistols were discovered and where Saddam kept a safe house.
The soldiers, who are still required to wear full combat gear and carry their weapons, inspect the generators, electrical cables and garden hoses that carry water from another water main into homes.
At the zoo, almost a third of the ground is now covered with water, and the water main leak is much worse. While the soldiers inspect the expanding pond, the workers return with more people. Among them is an engineer named Mohammed Sawan, who says he has a contract with UNICEF to repair water line breaks.
"We need a pass to enter this area so we can make the repairs," Sawan tells Ivings, who assures him that will not be a problem. "We will pay these workers now. My company will take over responsibility now and make sure the water gets repaired."
Ivings tells Bishop, "That's a relief. That's one less thing you have to worry about."
Bishop says his experience in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo will help him in this job.
"I know how to deal with the people, know when they have legitimate complaints and when they don't," Bishop says. "As long as we can do some good, I like it."
At first, Radhi says, residents were angry at the soldiers because they did not allow people to return to their homes immediately after the war ended. But, he says, everyone's lives have improved since then.
"Most of them are helpful," Radhi says of the soldiers. "They are good people."
Copyright (c) 2003, The Associated Press
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