UNITED States soldiers sent to Baghdad's notorious Shiite stronghold of Sadr City arrived ready for a fight with the al-Mahdi Army militia.
Yet instead of violence, they are facing an even bigger problem - a vast, crowded slum where years of misery and government neglect have created conditions for the militias to thrive.
In a capital where public services barely function and five straight hours of electricity is a cause for celebration, Sadr City stands out. Some 2.5 million people, nearly all of them Shiites, live in the northeastern Baghdad community. Many of them lack running water and proper sewerage. Hundreds of thousands have no jobs and subsist on monthly food rations, a throwback to the international sanctions of the Saddam Hussein era.
Streets in some parts of Sadr City run black with sludge. Damaged power lines provide, at best, only four hours of electricity a day.
Many US soldiers were unprepared for what they found. During a patrol last week, troops brushed flies from their faces as they drove through rotting heaps of refuse and excrement that were piled outside houses. One soldier opened his Humvee's door and vomited.
Read it here.Ed Morrissey at the Captain's Quarters thinks this is a terrific opportunity for US forces to change Iraqi attitudes. [here] I do too.
Right now the locals are not openly anti-US.
For now, the atmosphere in the neighbourhood is not openly hostile. Posters of Muqtada al-Sadr, who led two uprisings against coalition forces in 2004, no longer appear on billboards and walls. Even some anti-American graffiti have been covered. But how long this will last is anyone's guess.And the US forces are being careful.
Instead of kicking in doors, soldiers knock first. Aggressive behaviour could provoke an uprising, soldiers say. "It's not so much ideology that the people flock to here, it's whoever can provide them with their basic needs...."And that is where the opportunity lies -- in the provision of basic needs. It seems that the military commanders understand this. Let us hope that the politicians follow through.