Two Views of Reconstruction

Article excerpt

For most of the day, soldiers from Charlie Company-Company C, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry (C/2-5 Cavalry)-fought Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi army with spray paint and smiles. By dusk, they would be storming Sadr's headquarters.

That's the way things went during the early part of May, trying to inch forward sputtering community assistance programs to shore up the faltering infrastructure by day and fighting bands of insurgents by night-probably trading shots with many of the same people they were helping a few hours earlier and returning to help them again after the nightly firefights. Such was duty in the squalor of Sadr City, a wasteland of neglect and loathing from the Saddam Hussein regime, a graveyard of good intentions from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and ground zero for Shiite Muslim anti-American fervor.

During the previous year, the CPA had done little at the grassroots level to address Sadr City's chronic problems, except to sprinkle lavish but continually unfulfilled promises on the lakes of sewage that dot the Shiite ghetto on the east bank of the Tigris. The situation created an opening for Sadr to point to those empty promises, stir resentment, prod despair and preach armed rebellion.

The 1 st Cavalry Division had taken responsibility for the area with the intent to push tangible progress. Fighting that erupted in April disrupted plans, but soldiers from the 2-5 Cavalry task force, Task Force Lancer, that patrolled Sadr City worked hard to see that it didn't derail them.

Sadr and a knot of zealot supporters fled Baghdad in early April to take a stand in the holy cities to the southwest and south, where the 1st Armored Division and 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment fought to root them out. On May 8, word came down to Task Force Lancer that one of Sadr's chief lieutenants had filtered back into Baghdad and was holding meetings in the Sadr City headquarters to pass along orders and spur further insurgency. The intelligence was deemed reliable enough to order a raid against the headquarters.

At Forward Operating Base (FOB) War Eagle, Task Force Lancer quietly planned, prepared and loaded into vehicles late that afternoon. Outward activity was kept at a low level until the very last moment to avoid tipping off the operation. …