Video: On the line with soldiers in Iraq

By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/27/2007 2:13:24 PM ET 2007-04-27T18:13:24

For months, NBC's Mike Taibbi has been following the stories of several soldiers from the famed 3rd Infantry Division who are now in Iraq as part of a troop increase. One of them, a 30-year-old Iraq war veteran, is preparing to move his company into the heart of Baghdad's insurgency.

BAGHDAD — For Capt. Pancho Perez-Cruz and his infantry company, it's another frustrating day of house hunting. Behind the smiles of children, the streets in Eastern Baghdad are thick with threats.

But Perez-Cruz and his company of 100-plus men are planning to live right in the middle of those threats.

"We'd never be able to protect that," he says. "OK. Let's get out."

The decision to move in is made because the so-called "surge" strategy says the only way to diffuse the deadly Sunni-Shiite tensions in neighborhoods like these is up-close and personal.

"I know I always give you a heart attack because I walk everywhere," Perez-Cruz says.

For weeks this three-tour Iraq war veteran has been scouring buildings on these bitter streets, looking to move his men in.

For better or worse, one of these neighborhoods will be the closest thing to home for Perez-Cruz and his company. The question: Can it work?

Not likely, says an out-of-work engineer afraid to be identified.

"He'll be safe, but unwelcome," the engineer says.

Unwelcome because American troops attract so much violence that the Iraqi Army major who's supposed to work with Pancho asked that we not show his face.

At home in Alabama, Perez-Cruz's wife Jennifer, alone with their son Lucas, doesn't fully buy his best-face scenario.

"I just feel horrible about what's going on," Jennifer says. "I don't like it. I want you home."

"I know," her husband replies. "If it's any relief, I mean our area is pretty good. I mean, relatively speaking."

But for the next year, Perez-Cruz's company will live in this area, because, says their boss Col. Troy Perry, mere patrols haven't worked.

"When we go in, we will not come back out," Perry says to his company.

That means Perez-Cruz won't hear his son speaking his first words.

"He says 'Mama?'" Perez-Cruz asks his wife.

"He's been saying 'Mama' and he says 'oh, wow,'" Jennifer says, because Lucas' father will be busy trying to win what many say is already lost. The chance, maybe the last chance, for something different than the misery and bloodshed that have filled these streets.

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