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A US patrol gains trust in a Baghdad district

In two neighborhoods, both Sunnis and Shiites are turning to US forces for protection - from each other.

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In the crucible heat of the Iraqi summer, Lt. Jim Waters's Humvees make their way down the packed streets of southern Baghdad. At the crowded intersections, Iraqi drivers slam on their brakes, trying to keep their distance from the US convoy. The turret gunners yell at cars to stop. It's a series of confusing moves that passes for standard traffic-control in Baghdad.

When the patrol passes a busy street, Lieutenant Waters, a sheriff from Sacramento, Calif., who commands a company of California National Guard soldiers in the 184th Infantry, tells his men to get out and start walking. As the foot patrol makes its way through the streets, an old Shiite woman in a black hejab invites Waters into her house. At the threshold, Waters politely waits.

"I don't want to track the dirt from the street into your house," he tells her.

After beckoning him inside, the woman explains to Waters that she wants him to help her son, Wasim Majid Latif, who had joined the Iraqi police but had been robbed of his uniform and gun on his way to work. The incident cost the young man his job. Waters listens, carefully writing down the boy's information before moving on.

As Iraqis increasingly turn to US forces out of fear of rival groups, a shift is taking place in southern Baghdad. Both Shiites and Sunnis in the mixed neighborhoods around Dora and Abu Dschir are asking US forces to protect them from a wave of sectarian reprisal killings, abductions, and mass detentions.

Over the past 30 days, there have been a number of killings in the area immediately surrounding the patrol's route. A tailor was murdered in his shop by armed men in a Mercedes; a tire salesman near 60th Street was shot and seriously injured; a barber was executed.


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