After Six Years At War, Iraqis Step Up

Tom Cipolla, 1st Calvary Division battalion commander
Tom Cipolla, 1st Calvary Division battalion commander stationed at the U.S. Army's Marez base just outside Mosul, speaks with one of his Iraqi counterparts.

Six years to the day after the U.S. invaded Iraq, a poll today shows 64 percent of Americans say the war is going well, up from 43 percent a year ago. But looking back, 55 percent still say the U.S. should have stayed out. After six years of conflict and tens of thousands of deaths, including 4,259 Americans, violence has declined sharply across Iraq.

In the first two months of this year, 33 Americans died, an 80 percent decrease from two years ago. But the insurgency remains a deadly threat in northern Iraq.

CBS News Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent Lara Logan reports on U.S. troops fighting to secure the city of Mosul.

For US soldiers in this part of Iraq, there's been no let up in the fight, Logan reports.

Six years on, Baghdad is calmer. But the city of Mosul is now the most dangerous place in the country.

And a nighttime raid in the war-torn city is especially important: the soldiers believe Abu Omar and his nephew may be behind a car bomb attack five weeks ago that killed their battalion commander.

What you can't see in Mosul are the Iraqi soldiers who captured the suspect and then handed him over to their U.S. counterparts. They asked not to be identified, for fear of being killed.

There are now 600,000 Iraqi Security Forces, almost double the number two years ago, Logan reports.

These days, the Iraqis take the lead on every mission, says the new battalion commander here.

"These are brand new security forces learning the hardest lessons that they could possibly learn under fire," says Tom Cipolla, 1st Calvary Division battalion commander stationed at the U.S. Army's Marez base just outside Mosul. "It's not been easy coming in to lead under these circumstances. We need to control this area over and above most others."

Cipolla was brought in to replace Lt. Col. Gary Derby. His death hit the soldiers hard.

But every day is hard here where the fight, Cipolla says, is mostly against al Qaeda.

"Al Qaeda, being a crafty enemy like they are, they have taken advantage of the opportunities they have been given," Cipolla says.

Opportunities created by the focus on Baghdad during the surge, Logan reports. That allowed the terrorist group to entrench their hold on Mosul.

"This place is not a place to joke, you stay focused," says Captain John Bradley.

Bradley's soldiers put up wanted posters as they go covering up the old ones that have been spray painted by insurgents marking this as their territory.

It's so deadly now for U.S. troops, that even rebuilding work has to be done at night. U.S. engineers work in the dark to repair a bridge that was blown up by terrorists.

The difference for these U.S. soldiers is the clock is ticking. Come June 30, they are supposed to be off the streets, with the Iraqi forces fully in charge.

But the Iraqi forces have come a long way, Logan reports. A street cleanup project in Mosul is theirs. It employs young men to keep them from being recruited by terrorists, a new soft approach for an army used to using only force.

All over Iraq, U.S. troops are preparing to leave, but it's places like Mosul that make commanders cautious about declaring victory just yet.
By Lara Logan

  • Lara Logan
    Lara Logan

    Lara Logan's bold, award-winning reporting from war zones has earned her a prominent spot among the world's best foreign correspondents. Logan began contributing to 60 Minutes in 2005.