In February, U.S. and Iraqi troops began new security operations in Baghdad to bring spiraling sectarian violence under control. VOA's Margaret Besheer reports that in one district of the capital, joint U.S. and Iraqi efforts are slowly having an effect.
Western Baghdad's Mansour district was once home to Iraq's elite. Today, many residents have fled the near-daily car bombings, kidnappings, executions and other violence plaguing the capital, leaving behind impressive villas standing neglected behind high walls covered in flowering vines and concertina wire.
Last month, as part of President Bush's troop surge, the U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery arrived in this area to work with Iraqi security forces to clear and secure the Mansour neighborhoods of Yarmouk, Hateen and Qadissiya. Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Gadson is the Battalion commander.
"We are doing this in a couple of ways, with our physical presence in terms of combat patrols," he explained. "But the way ahead in the future is our working with the Iraqi Security Forces; primarily the Iraqi Army, but also with the Iraqi Police. The simple leadership by example, interacting with them on a daily basis, is one part of that."
The Americans are working closely with their Iraqi counterparts, and on one recent foot patrol in the mainly Sunni neighborhood of Yarmouk, an Iraqi police lieutenant joins the American troops as they walk the streets talking to residents.
Police Lieutenant Assad says some of the people trust the police, but others do not because they are worried they are infiltrated by insurgents and militias.
Iraq's security forces are Shiite-led, and have come under widespread criticism for being infiltrated by Shiite militias.
It is early evening as the patrol enters the local square; men are sitting smoking water pipes, children are playing, and the vegetable vendor is doing a brisk business. People seem at ease and happy to see the American soldiers.
Nuzha, the vegetable vendor, says he feels relatively secure in his neighborhood, but he worries more about the lack of electricity and clean water.
As in many parts of Baghdad, public services are the next biggest problem after security. In Mansour, trash filled streets present not only a public health risk, but a security one as well, giving insurgents easy hiding places for bombs. The Americans are working with the Iraqis to get the streets cleaned up.
But there are signs Iraqis are feeling more secure. During one morning rush hour in Yarmouk, a little boy carrying his books walks alone to school, while on another street a group of young girls walk unchaperoned.
By 7:30 a.m., traffic is heavy and congestion develops near the frequent Iraqi police and army checkpoints. At the traffic circles, men and women wait for mini buses to take them to work.
But in the afternoon, the local police station comes under small arms fire, and a short while later a bomb explodes on a Yarmouk street, hitting an armored private security vehicle. No one is injured, but the vehicle is badly damaged. Iraqi police say it is the first roadside bomb in the area in 25 days.
In the late afternoon, an American patrol stops in Hateen, a small, Shi'ite enclave in Mansour. Children are playing in a dusty lot and residents gather quickly when they see the American humvees arrive. Older men in red and white check headscarves and traditional robes offer the soldiers sodas and pose for pictures with them.
The men tell the soldiers that their area is quiet, but they are worried because the neighborhoods around them still have security problems. The American lieutenant in charge of the platoon tries to reassure them. He passes out cards that have a local phone number for residents to call to report any problems or pass on tips about insurgents in their areas.
The soldiers walk up and down Hateen's streets for about an hour talking to the residents and joking with the children, until the daily overnight 8:00 p.m. vehicle curfew begins.
Then they toss a couple of footballs to the dozens of kids who have gathered, and jump in their vehicles to continue their security patrol.