- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007

BAGHDAD — Many U.S. soldiers on the ground in Baghdad caution that improved security in the capital city will last only as long as the surge. If American troops were to leave, they say, the insurgents could be back within hours.

U.S. forces broke up insurgent networks and curtailed the ability of terrorists to strike, said Sgt. Gregory Rayho, 30, of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, Stryker Brigade Combat Team, the recipient of three Purple Hearts during his time in Iraq.

His overall assessment is upbeat: “It is my opinion that the surge is working.”

But he also said continued success in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad, where his fellow soldiers patrol, depends on the continued presence of American troops. Should they be withdrawn, the future could be deadly.

“If [the insurgents] really, really wanted it really bad, they could take it back in a day. They could occupy it within hours, but it would take weeks to regain some of the terrain we have denied them,” he said.

When Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, testifies on Capitol Hill today, some lawmakers and many Americans will look beyond statistics for a street-level view of the daily ordeal faced by surging U.S. troops.

Working around the clock, seven days a week, the Stryker team raids suspected insurgent hide-outs and detains suspected terrorists. To boost security, the team set up about eight miles of concrete walls to protect the predominantly Sunni Dora neighborhood, home to about 38,000 Iraqis.

Other tactics, such as incorporating Sunnis into so-called volunteer forces, which are sanctioned by the U.S. troops to police their own areas, and awarding local sheiks cash grants and loans for reconstruction projects also helped tone down attacks.

One soldier, who has taken part in the distribution of hundred-thousand-dollar contracts in the Sunni area south of Baghdad, once known as the Triangle of Death, said he was basically buying a cease-fire.

“I can’t believe we are paying these people not to blow us up,” he said, asking that his name not be used.

Whether the incentives are financial or security-related, American forces are making an all-out effort to pull both Sunnis and Shi’ites away from extremist, sectarian or ideological elements and create conditions on the ground for a national identity to re-emerge.

“My little world consists of my little area, and I’ve watched it go from absolute chaos to relative quiet. Is it fragile? Yeah, but it’s working,” said Sgt. 1st Class David Richardson, of the 1-89 Cavalry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, who works a 16-square-mile area south of Baghdad.

“Your insurgents are probably still insurgents, but people placing the bombs are not so secure. Now their neighbors are watching,” said Sgt. 1st Class Richardson, who has spent 28 months in Iraq.

U.S. military reports say that the overall number of attacks on coalition forces and sectarian deaths are down. Still, levels are nowhere near as low as they were before the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara in February 2006.

And although the number of attacks are down, neighborhoods remain far from safe.

Story Continues →