Friday, October 24, 2008


The SURGE is over and now IRAQ, and in particular the SADR CITY neighborhood of BAGHDAD, stands ready to explode.

You could cut the tension in SADR CITY with a butter knife.

In Sadr City, a Repressed but Growing RageLimited by Cease-Fire, Mahdi Army Fighters Increasingly Restless as Iraqi Troops Go on Offensive

By Sudarsan RaghavanWashington Post Foreign ServiceThursday, October 23, 2008; A12

BAGHDAD -- Outside the tan, high-walled house, Shiite militiamen stood guard. Inside, men sat on a red carpet, their backs against a wall adorned with images of Shiite saints, their anger rising with each sentence. Hashim Naseer, a tribal leader, remembered how Iraqi soldiers arrested his brother early this month at a nearby park along with other Shiite fighters of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

"We thought this government was for Shiites, but now they have become worse than Saddam Hussein's regime," said Naseer, 40. "We placed much faith in the Iraqi security forces, but they are taking advantage of us."

Seven months after intense clashes with U.S. and Iraqi government forces rocked Baghdad's Sadr City enclave, a sense of betrayal and frustration flows through its sprawling expanse. Iraqi army units, backed by U.S. forces, are launching pre-dawn raids and arresting dozens of suspected militiamen, despite a deal between Sadr and Iraq's government. Residents, once fearful of the Mahdi Army militia, have become informants, and senior Sadrist leaders have been assassinated.

Yet the enclave, Sadr's largest popular base in the capital, has remained relatively calm. In interviews, Mahdi Army fighters insist they are shackling their rage and complying with Sadr's cease-fire, issued last year.

"Sayyid Moqtada al-Sadr told us: 'If they arrest you, do not do anything. If someone does bad things to you, don't retaliate,' " said Ahmed Abu Zahara, 37, a Mahdi Army commander, using an honorific for Sadr. "We are still obeying the Sayyid."

American and Iraqi officials have described Sadr's cease-fire as a key reason for Iraq's sharp drop in violence. They also cite the "surge" of 30,000 U.S. troops and the rise of the Awakening forces, made up mostly of Sunni former insurgents, who allied with U.S. forces for money and position.

Now, the surge troops have left. And concerns are growing that many Awakening fighters could rejoin the insurgency, as the Shiite-led government, long suspicious of the former fighters, takes control of the movement.

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Stretched Thin, Army Puts Some Vulnerable Soldiers Back on the Frontlines

Oct. 23, 2008—

Two weeks before his second deployment to Iraq last September, Army Specialist Michael DeVlieger broke down.

"At first, I thought it was something that everybody experienced," DeVlieger told ABC's Bob Woodruff, "and just through time and perseverance I guess it would pass." It didn't pass.

After an 11-day hospitalization, DeVlieger was given a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, three psychiatric prescriptions -- and deployment orders.

"Eighteen hours after he got out of the hospital, he deployed to Iraq," DeVlieger's wife, Christine DeVlieger, recalled. He left for Iraq despite Pentagon policy requiring that service members establish three months of "stability without significant symptoms" before deploying.

"I was a ticking time bomb," Michael DeVlieger said.

Citing privacy, officials at DeVlieger's base in Fort Campbell, Ky., declined to comment except to say there was a combat stress unit assigned to DeVlieger's base in Iraq.

'Stretched Too Thin'

More than 600,000 Americans have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Psychological trauma is cumulative," explained Dr. Paul Ragan, a former Navy psychiatrist who is an associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University. More deployments can mean more mental stress, and for some, more mental illnesses, he said.

Army surveys show that for those soldiers deployed once, the rate of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder is 12 percent. For those deployed three or more times, the rate is 27 percent.

"People who have psychiatric symptoms, actively symptomatic with PTSD or depression, are being sent back to the very situation that caused their PTSD and depression," Ragan said.
The Army's chief psychiatrist, Dr. Elspeth Ritchie, agrees with the Rand Corp.'s estimate that 300,000 service members have demonstrated post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Some are returning to the battlefront, although the Army is not keeping track of how many.

"I certainly would not want to lump all soldiers who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and say they are impaired and not able to do their job," Ritchie told Woodruff. "I think that would be very stigmatizing."

Many soldiers, as Ritchie points out, receive treatment and cope successfully with PTSD or depression.

"We have a number of reasons for sending the soldiers back to war -- we have a mission, clearly," Ritchie said.

The mission asks a lot of a few. Less than 1 percent of the population serves, and serves again.
"We know the Army is stretched too thin. We know how busy we are. We know we need more forces," Ritchie said.

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