BAGHDAD — Haifa Street is an insurgent stronghold, notorious for its gun battles and kidnappings. But Thursday a platoon of Iraqi soldiers took charge as part of Operation Lightning — a litmus test for U.S.-trained Iraqis taking the fight to the insurgents.
Iraqi Army Col. Alaa says he and his men are highly motivated.
“I need to give safety and security to my country,” says Alaa.
Last Thursday, after weeks of pressure from the people of Baghdad to act, the new government unveiled a bold plan: Promising to deploy 40,000 troops at more than 600 checkpoints to squeeze the insurgents in a ring of steel.
One week later, the government said its forces were already reclaiming Baghdad and had killed 28 alleged terrorists and arrested almost 700.
“People need to be aware that there is a serious government trying to serve their interests,” says Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
But from the ground, many Iraqis are asking, Where is Operation Lightning? They see only half the troops and roadblocks that were promised and a series of slow, staggered police raids, not hard military strikes.
And military sources tell NBC News that problems of coordination and timing between Iraqi security forces and U.S. troops have hindered the operation as well.
American and Iraqi commands have reportedly squabbled over who's in charge and there are questions about Iraqi troop readiness, too.
In Baghdad, the U.S. Army is training 2,000 Iraqi recruits in how to shoot, set up a checkpoint and patrol. But after nine weeks of boot camp, are the Iraqi troops ready to fight insurgents?
“Like anything else, it's a crawl, walk, run process,” says Sgt. Leigh Castle with the Army's Third Infantry Division.
And that might explain why some say this operation, sold by the government as a bolt of lightning, is, so far, packing little punch.