February 5, 2007

Exit Haifa Street


If pictures from Baghdad have been hard to come by, last Monday’s NYT video of a U.S./Iraqi raid was a deadly exception.  The presentation left little to the imagination — except the swearing.  (Although why coarse language would be stricken, considering everything, is bizarre.)

The video raises various questions, some visual, some political, others tactical.

My first reaction was to think of the Leija family.  If I was the father or brother of squad leader, Staff Sgt. Hector Leija (above), and had this opportunity to see almost everything, would I want to see anything?


On one level, the video seems like classic evidence of the over-simplistic thinking behind the surge.

Two weeks into the strategy, the feedback from Baghdad is that the U.S. suppression of Shiite paramilitary activity is not helping to pacify Baghdad, so much as destabilizing the situation and encouraging more and larger Sunni attacks.  The news this morning indicates that this weekend’s massive suicide bombing against Shiites — the largest of the war — probably occurred in this vacuum.  If you notice, Sgt. Leija’s unit was raiding a building freshly abandoned by Shiites.  Following the logic, it is more than likely the fire encountered by this platoon was facilitated by the mission itself.

The video’s largest red flag, however, involves the propaganda about the Iraqi military’s effectiveness and the supposed coordination between U.S. and Iraqi forces.  Notice, for example, the heavy-handed footage near the end (supplied by the military, I believe) where the Iraqi’s are grouped in a room, firing out the window, supposedly to demonstrate what a prominent role they are playing.


If these Iraqi’s were truly “taking the lead,” however, what kind of message is sent when the American’s have to wait for them to show up?

More fatefully, if the Iraqi’s are out in front — as set up in the video, and by the government — how is it the Iraqi’s disappear, leaving the Sergeant to pay the ultimate price?

The video “Return To Haifa Street” can be found here with the story: “When One Bullet Alters Everything.”

(video: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty and Ahmad Fadam for The New York Times; produced by Diana Oliva Cave; reported by Damien Cave.  Baghdad, Iraq. published January 28, 2007.  nytimes.com)

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Michael Shaw
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