Let me add to Joe’s post below, and suggest that John Burns’s article about the transformation of Haifa Street is much worth reading. Burns is an interesting fellow. Among the reporters in Iraq, he was something of a local celebrity. When I was there, he had spent more time reporting from Iraq than anyone else I met. Because of this, he actually understands the Iraqis and their situation more than most of the reporters. Having seen the atrocities committed by Hussein, he was a strong and vocal opponent of Saddam’s regime--which put him in something of a minority position among the press. (Few were vocal about Saddam, and if they were, they were quick to add a "but," followed by a string of blame the Americans.) While I find that Burns is a little too quick to editorialize in his columns, and often times offers opinions with which I disagree, he is interesting, and worth reading.
Burns’s article is about Haifa Street, a road in Baghdad known as the wild west, which runs directly into the Assassin’s gate of the Green Zone. I know this gate well. I went through it less than an hour after bombs exploded outside the gate. I have heard gunfire down Haifa Street as I exited or drove past the gate. This is the gate I would have to take if business (or a poker game) kept me in the Green Zone late into the evening, when the gate at the Convention Center would on occasion be closed. Beyond the gate, which was manned with crows-nest gunners peering through their scopes at all hours of the day and night, stood Haifa street, populated by Saddam with many of his loyalists. Not surprisingly, then, Haifa Street was the locus of many a fire fight. For example, my recollection is that the Bradley fighting vehicle that was overrun and had to be destroyed (killing one journalist who foolishly stood next to the vehicle broadcasting while looters attacked the vehicle) was on Haifa Street. But Burns offers us good news about this street:
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. . . .
But the change American commanders see as more promising than any other here is the deployment of large numbers of Iraqi troops. American commanders are eager to shift the fighting in Iraq to the country’s own troops, allowing American units to pull back from the cities and, eventually, to begin drawing down their 150,000 troops. Haifa Street has become an early test of that strategy.
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.