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IRAQ: Baghdad after the battles

April 6, 2008 |  8:51 am

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It's not often we get the chance to drive through Baghdad at a slow enough speed to see much and take pictures, but the U.S. military recently offered a trip of several houyrs through Shiite areas that had seen fighting during recent battles between Shiite militiamen and Iraqi and U.S. forces.

There were signs of normalcy on many streets -- a little girl dragging a comb through her doll's straw-colored hair, little boys sitting on the side of the road waiting for the convoy to pass so they could resume their soccer game, people shopping, schoolgirls walking home from class.

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But even in areas that were not directly hit by battles, the scars of five years of war, and of years of neglect in the decades before the U.S. invasion, are clear. Sheep graze among mountains of trash piled along residential streets lined with neatly kept, split-level homes whose owners no doubt wish for nicer views.

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Children's playgrounds sit idle and rusted.

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The recent fighting left more than 600 Iraqis dead, and tensions remained high as Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, who said his Mahdi Army militia was unfairly targeted in the fighting, traded accusations. The conflict is sure to figure high on Washington lawmakers' minds this week as they question Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker about progress on the ground in Iraq. Read more about what the encounter is likely to bring in this story, which ran in Sunday's Times.

A question sure to be asked is how the Iraqi security forces fared in the heat of battle. Publicly, at least, U.S. officials insist they did well, but they admit that the operation should have been planned better before Maliki deployed his forces. One U.S. Army lieutenant colonel said Iraqi forces in his area of operations ran out of ammunition and had to run to nearby battle positions to fetch more.

But as he explained last week, Iraqi forces faced unique problems, such as threats from militia fighters who vowed to kill the soldiers' families if they fired at militiamen.

The Iraqi soldiers on the streets now insisted they had learned from the experience and were ready for the next showdown.

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— Tina Susman in Baghdad

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, the war in Iraq and the confrontation between the West and Islam. You can subscribe by registering at the website here, logging in here and clicking on the World: Mideast newsletter box here.

Photo credits: Tina Susman

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