The Next Battle For Baghdad

Restoring Power To Iraq's Cities Will Be Difficult

American troops rolled into Iraq's capital city faster than expected. The next battle for Baghdad and other cities of Iraq won't be won as quickly.

It is a battle to restore power, water and civil authority to a country changed by decades of dictatorship, and a month of war. It is a job already proving quite difficult. Dan Rather is in Baghdad.



We've been here nearly a week and we've watched Baghdad just begin to calm down some. The city is no longer in total anarchy, but it's still almost impossible for an average Iraqi to buy food, take a bath, go to a hospital, or get money at a bank.

The war shut Baghdad down completely. And now, the American general who conquered the capital has a new job -- trying to fight off guerrilla attacks while at the same time bringing order out of chaos.

That man is Major General Buford Blount, and we spent some time with him as he struggles to jump-start some sort of normal life in a city of 5 million hungry, frightened and angry people.

"Clearly, we're moving into this transition phase, you know, for the division, from combat. We can't lose sight of the fact that there is still a fight here with the terrorists, the Fedayeen," says Blount.

"They've imported some people from other countries. They want to kill Americans, want to kill U.S. soldiers. We are rooting these people out."

But they haven't all been rooted out yet. It's still dangerous to move through many parts of Baghdad and its outskirts, so heavily armed soldiers escorted us to the headquarters of Blount's 3rd infantry division.

The trip out to Blount's base at the city's international airport was surreal. Some of the sights seemed straight out of an earlier time. Others were as contemporary and brutal as modern warfare.

On the right, we passed Tariq Aziz's bombed mansion. Down the road, we saw the giant, grotesque military monument Saddam designed to glorify himself.

The old regime is no more, and no new government is yet in place. But Blount is confident Iraqis feel liberated by the U.S. military.

"The Iraqi people want their freedom," he says. "They want their old regime gone, and I think we're stepping forward to take part in insuring that that happens."

But winning hearts and minds is an immensely complicated task -- especially if the hearts are hardened, and the minds are set against the very soldiers who freed them from a brutal regime.

"The progress is happening. I know everybody wants it done now, but the progress is happening here. It's phenomenal," says Blount.

"I think we've got security pretty much under control now. The people are feeling safer."

Safer, but not safe. Security is the number one problem facing both Iraqi residents and American soldiers and Marines. Pro-Saddam snipers open up on American troops every day. The Americans return the fire ten-fold.

The Americans have recruited some Iraqi cops from the Saddam regime back to the job. The idea is that Iraqis will police themselves. But Iraqi citizens often see those veteran cops as holdovers from the bad old days, so they are not exactly popular on the streets of their own city.

Yesterday, Iraqi civilian policemen started going out on patrol. They were accompanied -- or perhaps protected -- by American troops.

But how can you figure out which Iraqi civilian just want to help their city … and which want to hide their ties to Saddam's regime?

"I do not know," says Col. Jeffrey Sanderson, who led his troops through the gates of Baghdad during three weeks of heavy combat. Now, he is switching from fighting to fixing, enlisting residents of the northern quadrant of town to help.

"Historically, General Patton was fired for hiring Nazis back when he went into Germany in 1945," says Sanderson. "But look, we have to have people who can fix the pipes."

Right now, Sanderson is focused on fixing one particular pipe -- a big water main that supplies water to a major hospital in his area. He is sympathetic, but frustrated, by all the serious problems he can't solve.

"Their number one concern is electricity, and I tell them that I am a combat unit and that I have no engineers to fix the electricity," says Sanderson.

"I try to build no false hope in them whatsoever. But what I tell them is that every soldier is doing their best to bring your electricity back."

Sanderson's troops want to help, but knowing how to shoot straight and fight hard is no help in this task.

Sanderson works for Blount, and yesterday the boss stopped by at one of the four hospitals in Sanderson's area to see how things are going.

American troops filled the parking lot at Kademiyah Medical Center, a large teaching hospital with more than 700 beds. Fear and danger are keeping patients and staff away.

The general came bearing gifts -- badly needed drugs and medical supplies -- courtesy of the government of Kuwait

Ironically, the hospital director who signed for all the donated supplies is a relative of Saddam Hussein. He is a Sunni Muslim quietly despised by the mostly Shiite doctors.

Meanwhile, Blount and Sanderson were meeting with the hospital staff. Blount promised them better days ahead.

"We're gonna have the power back on in the city soon, and in a few days have the airport open so we can fly in critical supplies," says Blount. "I think you'll see things get better here very quickly."

But the doctors had other concerns.

"There are lots of unexploded cluster bombs. I don't know what you guys call it, but they're unexploded," says one doctor. "Most of the cases we have now, basically the war injuries, these unexploded things, kids, they play around with them."

Major Generals are used to giving orders, not listening to complaints. But a week after winning the battlefield war, Blount is getting used to his new duties.

Upstairs, in one of the hospital's wards, they weren't worried about where the bombs came from, But they were concerned about what they've done to children who have mistaken them for toys.

Two brothers, both patients at the hospital, found a cluster bomb near their home. The explosion took out both of one brother's eyes, and left him with head-wounds that may well kill him. All his mother can do is weep and try to ease his pain. His brother was more fortunate.

Unexploded bombs and abandoned weapons -- from both sides in this war -- pose a deadly threat. Sanderson knows that unless Americans can help Iraqis bring safety and security to the streets of Baghdad, the victory on the battlefield will be a hollow one.

"The number one thing is to secure the people, to get the doctors back into the hospitals, to get the people back into the power plants, and to get the people feeling like they are secure enough to go back to a good life," says Sanderson.
  • Rebecca Leung

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