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US efforts in Iraq embattled, but often welcomed

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In a bid to control sectarian violence spiraling in Baghdad, US and Iraqi forces moved months ago into one of the toughest Sunni insurgent neighborhoods, Amiriyah.

At first, change was palpable. The Americans paid a Sunni contractor to clear streets and pick up trash. Checkpoints targeted insurgents, though few were netted.

But "ethnic cleansing" of the few remaining Shiites continued. The contractor was murdered, ending that program. And Sunday, the threat came to Mohamed al-Baghdadi's door when two young men left a note: Move out in two days or die.

"What is the benefit of US and Iraqi troops, if the killing continues, and bombs and IEDs, and they are forcing people to leave?" asks Mr. Baghdadi, a pseudonym for a Shiite pharmacist with a Sunni wife, who secretly serves as a medic for the Iraqi Army. "The American Army does not control Amiriyah."

US forces have enjoyed some tactical successes – for a time in Amiriyah, and in the insurgent stronghold of Doura, where residents have praised US moves. Elsewhere, Iraqis have approvingly noted US soldiers, shovels in hand, clearing blocked sewers.

The renewed US military attention to Baghdad has sometimes been welcomed. But it is often not deemed sustainable by Iraqi units when US forces eventually leave. And in other areas, such as the Shiite suburb of Sadr City, an increased US presence over the past week has deepened antioccupation sentiment, and threatened renewed conflict.

The US says the success of the step-by-step approach must be measured over time. "A lump of clay can become a sculpture, blobs of paint become paintings which inspire," Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said Thursday. "The final test of our efforts will not be the isolated incidents reported daily but the country that the Iraqis build."

US commanders recently termed the results of "Operation Forward Together," launched last June, as "disheartening." A secret Central Command briefing slide from Oct. 18, published Wednesday in The New York Times, assessed the situation as heading toward "chaos." It noted "urban areas experiencing 'ethnic cleansing' campaigns to consolidate control ... violence at all-time high, spreading geographically."

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