U.S. Troops Go It Alone In South Baghdad

U.S. Army Capt. Jason Good, Charlie Company Commander, 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry, on patrol in Arab Jabour, southern Baghdad.
CBS/Cami McCormick
This story was written by CBS News correspondent Cami McCormick, embedded with U.S. forces in Baghdad.

In this fertile, rural area of southern Baghdad, date palm trees line the east bank of the Tigris River, often hiding a deadly enemy. Snipers use the trees for cover to fire on U.S. troops. Insurgents plant roadside bombs and then disappear into the groves.

The U.S. military bulldozes the trees along at least one road it uses frequently.

While much of the focus has been on the sectarian violence in Baghdad, the Sunni insurgency here shows no signs of abating.

Arab Jabour is one example of why President Bush is pressuring the Iraqi leadership to become a more representative government. The government's current security forces are made up largely of Shiites, who are unwelcome in this predominantly Sunni region.

So U.S. forces often go it alone.

"This is an area where the terrorists have been able to gain and maintain a sanctuary," said Col. Michael X. Garrett, Commander of the 4th Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, because until now U.S. military forces haven't "routinely operated here and there are no Iraqi forces, army or police."

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The population of Arab Jabour is estimated at 120,000, and 90 percent to 95 percent of them are Sunni. It is bordered by predominantly Shiite areas to the north, in Baghdad, and to the south, by towns like Mahmudiya.

A national police checkpoint sits on the main road to central Baghdad, intended to stop weapons from flowing in and out of the capital, but the police officers are mainly Shiite and the Arab Jabour residents don't trust them.

"We're up against a Sunni-based insurgency that is dissatisfied with the Iraqi government," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark W. Odom, the commander of the 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry, which deployed to this area two and a half months ago as part of the 4th Brigade.

"They think the government does not support them with basic services like electricity, food and fuel vouchers. They view the Iraqi government as essentially supporting Shiite militias," he added.

Although victims of sectarian violence have turned up along the area's borders with Shiite neighborhoods, the local Sunnis often take out their anger on Coalition forces.

"Ninety to 100 percent of the area's residents either actively or passively support the insurgency," estimates Odom, who calls them well-armed and well-trained.

On a scale of one to 10, he gives them the highest mark as worthy opponents.

"Clearly, many of them have been in the military, based on the engagements we have had. Their tactics, their employment of indirect fire systems, indicates something beyond just paramilitary training," Odom says.

And it's not just the military training that makes them so deadly, it's an engrained ideology. Odom says a 14-year-old boy was caught recently laying an improvised explosive device. One alleged sniper was just 16.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.