The good news from Iraq

It may well have gotten buried under all the Schiavo madness, but there was news yesterday of positive developments in one of Baghdad's most dangerous sectors.

By Mark Follman
Published March 22, 2005 9:16PM (EST)

A favorite charge conservatives like to level against the "liberal media" is that it deliberately shuns any good news from the war front (with "liberal media" often a euphemism for a certain newspaper out of the northeast). Though it may well have gotten buried under all the Schiavo madness, Monday's New York Times featured the fine work of veteran reporter John F. Burns, who wrote at length about various signs of progress in Iraq -- including the relative taming of Baghdad's notorious Haifa Street, an insurgent stomping ground and key barometer of the conflict.

"In the first 18 months of the fighting, the insurgents mostly outmaneuvered the Americans along Haifa Street, showing they could carry the war to the capital's core with something approaching impunity. But American officers say there have been signs that the tide may be shifting. On Haifa Street, at least, insurgents are attacking in smaller numbers, and with less intensity; mortar attacks into the Green Zone have diminished sharply; major raids have uncovered large weapons caches; and some rebel leaders have been arrested or killed."

Burns also reported on gains in infrastructure led by American military engineers, and progress in the critical mission of building Iraq's new security forces. (The latter a Herculean challenge about which the Bush administration has been less than honest.)

"The change American commanders see as more promising than any other here is the deployment of large numbers of Iraqi troops. Last month, an Iraqi brigade with two battalions garrisoned along Haifa Street became the first homegrown unit to take operational responsibility for any combat zone in Iraq. The two battalions can muster more than 2,000 soldiers, twice the size of the American cavalry battalion that has led most fighting along the street. So far, American officers say, the Iraqis have done well, withstanding insurgent attacks and conducting aggressive patrols and raids, without deserting in large numbers or hunkering down in their garrisons."

American military commanders, according to Burns, caution that the positive changes there "are a long way from victory." But Burns also notes that "American morale, for the moment, is high."

So, too, has been the price of progress for U.S. soldiers working Iraq's most dangerous sectors.

"A year ago, the American cavalry division took a major risk in shifting to foot patrols from drive-throughs in Bradley armored troop carriers. The change took its toll: the division's Haifa Street force lost five soldiers, and 25 were seriously wounded, the core of a wider group of injured men who received those Purple Hearts. But the unit estimates that it killed 100 to 200 enemy fighters, and the yield in intelligence was rich."

You'd think that for that kind of good news, the sacrifice of U.S. soldiers would be repaid a little more appropriately once they finally made it home.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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