A large front-page photo and above-the-fold story in Friday morning’s New York Times offered more evidence that the troop surge that Barack Obama and Joe Biden vehemently opposed last year has substantially improved the lives of everyday Iraqis. The headline, “As Fears Ease, Baghdad Sees Walls Tumble,” pointed to a new phase in the Iraqi capital, one where some of the cement barricades that divided Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods are now being torn down.
“The slow dismantling of the concrete walls is the most visible sign of a fundamental change here in the Iraqi capital. The American surge strategy, which increased the number of United States troops and contributed to stability here, is drawing to a close. And a transition is under way to the almost inevitable American drawdown in 2009,” the Times reported.
But over the last few months, the big three broadcast networks have paid extremely little attention to the progress in Iraq. ABC’s World News last presented a report from Iraq on September 16 — 23 days ago — as reporter Jonathan Karl covered the ceremony in which General David Petraeus handed his over his command over to General Ray Odierno. NBC Nightly News last carried a report from Iraq on September 7, more than a month ago. And the CBS Evening News hasn’t broadcast a story from Iraq since July 31, 70 days ago.
If even the New York Times can carve out space on its front page to report about an important positive milestone in Iraq, can’t the broadcast networks find a couple of minutes on their evening newscasts?
Here’s an excerpt from this morning’s piece in the Times, which was reported by a team of three correspondents: Alissa J. Rubin, Stephen Farrell and Erica Goode:
BAGHDAD — Market by market, square by square, the walls are beginning to come down. The miles of hulking blast walls, ugly but effective, were installed as a central feature of the surge of American troops to stop neighbors from killing one another.
“They protected against car bombs and drive-by attacks,” said Adnan, 39, a vegetable seller in the once violent neighborhood of Dora, who argues that the walls now block the markets and the commerce that Baghdad needs to thrive. “Now it is safe.”
The slow dismantling of the concrete walls is the most visible sign of a fundamental change here in the Iraqi capital. The American surge strategy, which increased the number of United States troops and contributed to stability here, is drawing to a close. And a transition is under way to the almost inevitable American drawdown in 2009.
There are now more than 148,000 United States troops in Iraq, down from the peak of around 170,000 a year ago, and President Bush has accepted the military’s recommendation to remove 8,000 more by February.
Iraqis are already taking on many of the tasks the Americans once performed, raising great hopes that the country will progress on its own but also deep fears of failure.
...In dozens of interviews across Baghdad, it is evident that while open hostilities have calmed, beneath the surface many Sunnis and Shiites continue to harbor deep mistrust.
If the changes work as hoped, it will be a huge step toward restoring normal life in Baghdad. Each move, however, has its pitfalls. Awakening members could return to insurgent activity. Bombers could take advantage of streets without walls. The National Police, long accused of being sectarian, could abuse its new positions.
American commanders concede the risks but contend that the changes are worthwhile, given the potential payoff.
“We’ve got to balance that: security with economic concerns,” said Lt. Col. Tim Watson, commander of the Second Battalion, Fourth Infantry, attached to the First Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, for Baghdad.
But commanders acknowledged that the cost of failure would be high. Referring to the Awakening transfer, Colonel Watson’s boss, Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, said, “If the project were to fail, these guys would be out on the street, angry.”
“Al Qaeda in Iraq will be recruiting them,” he said....
You can find the entire article here.