Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Misery in Baghdad

To Staff Sgt. Charles Pollard, the working-class suburb of Mashtal is a "very, very, very, very bad neighborhood." And he sees just one solution.

"U.S. officials need to get our [expletive] out of here," said the 43-year-old reservist from Pittsburgh, who arrived in Iraq with the 307th Military Police Company on May 24. "I say that seriously. We have no business being here. We will not change the culture they have in Iraq, in Baghdad. Baghdad is so corrupted. All we are here is potential people to be killed and sitting ducks."

To Sgt. Sami Jalil, a 14-year veteran of the local police force, the Americans are to blame. He and his colleagues have no badges, no uniforms. The soldiers don't trust them with weapons. In his eyes, his U.S. counterparts have already lost the people's trust.

"We're facing the danger. We're in the front lines. We're taking all the risks, only us," said the 33-year-old officer. "They're arrogant. They treat all the people as if they're criminals."

These are the dog days of summer in Mashtal, and tempers are flaring along a divide as wide as the temperatures are high.

Throughout the neighborhood, as in much of Baghdad, residents are almost frantic in their complaints about basic needs that have gone unmet -- enough electricity to keep food from spoiling, enough water to drink, enough security on the streets. At Mashtal's Rashad police station, where Pollard's unit is working to protect the police and get the Baath Party-era force back on its feet, the frustrations are personal and professional.

Many of the Iraqi officers despise the U.S. soldiers for what they see as unreasonable demands and a lack of respect. Many of the soldiers in Pollard's unit -- homesick, frustrated and miserable in heat that soars well into the 100s -- deem their mission to reconstitute the force impossible.

Attacks in Baghdad, things blowing up in Fallujah