Today’s first Good News Friday story was sent to me from my favorite Marine,
the Infamous SJ!
Thank you Ma’am
May 8, 2007
Iraqi General Touts Area Turnaround
Once A Battle Zone, Yarmouk Enjoys Peace
By Rick Jervis, USA Today
BAGHDAD — Yassir Layth, 12, whose favorite sports are soccer and “push-ups,” used to pedal his bike past human corpses each day on his way to school.
Today, the two-block path from his home to Nablus Primary School is not nearly as scary, he said. The shooting has stopped, car bombs have quieted and, most noticeably, the dead bodies have gone away.
“My friends were too scared to come to class, and so was I,” Yassir said inside his classroom, crowded with other students. “Now everyone comes to school.”
The school is in the mainly Sunni neighborhood of Yarmouk, which the Iraqi military showcased Monday as a sign the nearly 3-month-old Baghdad security plan is working. Yarmouk used to be one of the city’s worst battlegrounds for sectarian violence, but a flood of Iraqi troops into the area has made things better, Iraqi Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta al-Mousawi said.
A large Iraqi army checkpoint, reinforced with blast barriers, mortar bunkers and concertina wire, stood at one of the main entrances to the area. Other streets had been blocked off. A large Iraqi armored vehicle, known as a Badger, was parked next to one of the public squares.
With support from U.S. troops, the Iraqi military focuses its efforts on specific, violent areas around the city. That is why some neighborhoods seem subdued, while nearby districts are engulfed in shootouts and car bombs, al-Mousawi said.
“We have a strategy. Now we’re attacking the terrorists here,” said al-Mousawi, flanked by a company of Iraqi soldiers and armored Humvees. “Then our strategy will shift to another district. It’s step by step.”
Several similar efforts to secure Baghdad have failed because violence flared up after troops rotated into a new area. Iraq’s government hopes a recent increase of U.S. and Iraqi troop levels will help keep the peace in more neighborhoods.
Judith Yaphe, an Iraq expert at the National Defense University in Washington, described efforts such as the one in Yarmouk as “a sign of progress, but no one knows for how long (it will last).” Longer-term success “depends on how long we maintain the presence and how much progress the Iraqis make in reconciling their differences and establishing an effective government,” she said.
Once an affluent area lined with plush villas and wide squares, Yarmouk became one of the deadliest battlegrounds in Baghdad after the U.S. invasion. Shootouts and explosions occurred nearly daily, residents said.
Husham Qassim said his neighborhood has become safer, though lack of electricity and clean water remains a problem. Two of Qassim’s sons recently returned from Syria, where they fled from Baghdad’s violence. “Thank God, it’s better,” said Qassim, 60, a retiree. “Now I can finally go to the market. We hope it stays this way.”
Children at the Nablus Primary School down the street used to constantly dodge gunfire and car bombs on their way to and from school, said Widad Ahmed Azid, the school’s headmaster. Students often located bodies on the streets around the school and ran back to their teachers to report them, she said. Last year, one student was killed by a car bomb explosion down the street. Half of the school’s original 1,000 students fled Baghdad, she said.
The situation drastically improved after the start of the security plan, Azid said. The classrooms began to refill with students as the shootings and explosions stopped, she said.
“As soon as you left the school, there were shootings, explosions; it was like a war zone,” Azid said. “The situation has greatly improved. I only hope it stays that way.”