"We are in the land of the blood feuds"

A report from Iraq's Triangle of Death.

Published August 10, 2007 2:42PM (EDT)

The new conventional wisdom on Iraq -- although Iraqis aren't doing what they need to do politically, the "surge" is working militarily -- takes a blow from Sudarsan Raghavan's on-the-scene report in today's Washington Post.

Raghavan has been spending time in the "the unruly outer fringes of the Sunni area south of Baghdad known as the Triangle of Death," where "American soldiers navigate more than a dozen battle zones straddling the fault lines of sect and tribe."

Some of what he's heard from U.S. soldiers and their commanders there:

Col. Michael Garrett on how his troops are "fighting in multiple directions": "I'm not fighting one sect or the other. I'm fighting both. And not only am I fighting both, but at certain points I have to put my forces in between the Sunni and Shia groups to protect the populace."

Maj. Craig Whiteside on the difference between Shia and Sunnis: "Shiites don't like to shoot. . . . They just EFP you. The Sunnis use snipers, RPGs, mortars -- they'll attack you in every possible way."

Maj. Rick Williams on the nature of the fight. "We are in the land of the blood feuds. It's very difficult to tell a tribal fight from a sectarian fight because interests are pretty mixed. You can't just put up a fence . . . Any group you work with can turn on you. That is part of the operating cost."

Lt. Col. Robert Balcavage on what U.S. troops accomplish when they attack forces of al-Qaida in Iraq and the Sunni Islamic Army: "We blow AQI and Jaish al-Islami up and make them bigger than they are."

Sgt. Josh Claeson on how it all feels: "Our basic mission here is to drive around and get blown up."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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