Winning hearts and minds in Sadr City
I don't know which is more amazing: the fact that this is happening, or the fact that the article about it appeared in the LA Times.
I noticed the story via this link from Big Pharaoh, my favorite Egyptian blogger (he's also the only one I know, but I'm sure he'd be my favorite even if I knew of more).
So, things are going very well lately in Sadr City, that poor section of Baghdad that was thought to house an incorrigibly anti-American population, unreachable and potentially violent. Although the LA Times and Yahoo News have seen fit to spotlight the story, it certainly hasn't gotten the wide coverage one would expect from such an astounding turnaround. After all, just remember how much we heard about Sadr City when things were going badly there.
So, I'll do my small bit to publicize the good news. Here are some excerpts:
Crammed into armored Humvees heaving with weapons, Lt. Col. S. Jamie Gayton and his soldiers were greeted by a surprising sight as they rolled into one of Baghdad's poorest neighborhoods.
Men stood and waved. Women smiled. Children flashed thumbs-up signs as the convoy rumbled across the potholed streets of Sadr City...
We're making a huge impact," Gayton said as his men pulled up to a sewer station newly repaired with U.S. funds. "It has been incredibly safe, incredibly quiet and incredibly secure."
Sadr City has become one of the rare success stories of the U.S. reconstruction effort, say local residents, Iraqi and U.S. officials. Although vast swaths remain blighted, the neighborhood of 2 million mostly impoverished Shiites is one of the calmest in Baghdad. One U.S. soldier has been killed and one car bomb detonated in the last year, the military says.
The improvements are the result of an intense effort in the wake of the street battles last August with fighters loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr. Within a month, U.S. officials decided to make Sadr City a showcase for rebuilding, and increased spending to $805 million in a neighborhood long neglected under
The author, T. Christian Miller, than goes into the obligatory disclaimer about all the other projects around Iraq that haven't gone as well. But even he cannot restrain his excitement at the remarkable success of this one, when he returns to re-interview people who were complaining a short year ago, and finds them quite pleased with how things have been going lately:
At the newly repaired sewer station, a local family guarding it greeted Gayton like an old friend; he had visited several times before.
Haita Zamel showed Gayton how the local sewer authority was fixing a problem that had developed in one pump. She proudly showed off the small home that had been built on the site to replace a dilapidated trailer where her family of six once lived. She even asked Gayton for computer software to teach English to her children.
"When you tell me something, I know you'll do it," she said, clutching tightly at the white scarf covering her head. "To the last day of our life, we are with you. Us and all of our neighbors."
But I think this is my very favorite part:
Kadhem said that for the first time, he could imagine a future for his children better than his own.
"Things are different. Before, we felt afraid. Now, there is freedom and we feel there will be a solution and it will be better," he said. "At this stage, we have to endure.
"The change from a dictatorship to a democracy is not easy."
Kadhem, resident of Sadr City, seems to be exhibiting far more patience and understanding--and just plain common sense--about the transition and reconstruction process than a great many people in the US and Europe are showing.
It makes a neocon proud.