"When we first got here, all the shops were open. There were women and children walking out on the street," Alarcon said this week. "The women were in Western clothing. It was our favorite street to go down because of all the hot chicks."
That was 14 long months ago, when the soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, arrived in southwestern Baghdad. It was before their partners in the Iraqi National Police became their enemies and before Shiite militiamen, aligned with the police, attempted to exterminate a neighborhood of middle-class Sunni families.
Next month, the U.S. soldiers will complete their tour in Iraq. Their experience in Sadiyah has left many of them deeply discouraged, by both the unabated hatred between rival sectarian fighters and the questionable will of the Iraqi government to work toward peaceful solutions.
Asked if the American endeavor here was worth their sacrifice -- 20 soldiers from the battalion have been killed in Baghdad -- Alarcon said no: "I don't think this place is worth another soldier's life."
While top U.S. commanders say the statistics of violence have registered a steep drop in Baghdad and elsewhere, the soldiers' experience in Sadiyah shows that numbers alone do not describe the sense of aborted normalcy -- the fear, the disrupted lives -- that still hangs over the city.
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Over time, the neighborhood became a battleground that residents fled by the thousands. Hundreds of shops shut down, schools closed, and access to basic services such as electricity, fuel and food deteriorated. "The end state was people left. They felt unsafe," said Timmerman, the operations officer.
"We were so committed to them as a partner we couldn't see it for what it was. In retrospect, I've got to think it was a coordinated effort," Timmerman said. "To this day, I don't think we truly understand how infiltrated or complicit the national police are" with the militias.
Lt. Col. George A. Glaze, the battalion commander, says his soldiers are playing the role of a bouncer caught between brawling customers. Alone, they can restrain the fighters, keep them off balance, but they cannot stop the melee until the house lights come on -- that is, until the Iraqi government steps in.
"They're either going to turn the lights on or we're all going to realize they've moved the switch," he said.
Death's up, death's down -- the fact that we are only being tricked into allowing (or closing our eyes and allowing it while our Generals proclaim great success) the completion of ethnic cleansing of Baghdad and Iraq itself...to the tune of hundreds of thousands of deaths, trillions of dollars, and a stain that will long linger on our national reputation and conscience.