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Major General Peter Chiarelli, head of US military’s Task Force Baghdad and commander of the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division, spoke a few days ago at a AUSA (Association of the United States Army) meeting at the Ft. Hood (Texas) Officer’s Club. A friend of To The Point’s took notes. This is how it really is.

*Baghdad is about the same size, geographically, as Texas’ capital of Austin, with ten times the folks: 700,000 for Austin, 7 million for Baghdad.

*Baghdad’s main problem area has been a huge slum called Sadr City. Last fall, there was an average of 160 terrorist attacks per week. For the last three months, they have flatlined: five to zero a week.

*Key factors in this has not so much been “winning battles,” but providing electricity, water, and sewage treatment which the vast number of Sadr residents never had. As these were provided, terrorist recruiting fell off a cliff.

*The pre-existing electrical “grid” was a bad, deadly joke. Driving a Hum-vee with an antenna down a street would short out an entire block of apartments. People do their own wiring, and it was not uncommon for early morning patrols to find one or two people lying dead in the street, having been electrocuted trying to re-wire their own homes.

*The residents would soon tend to the bodies, for not doing so is virtually sacrilegious in a Moslem culture. Yet on election day, after suicide bombers blew themselves up trying to take out polling places, voters would step up to the body lying there, spit on it, and move up in the line to vote.

*The media blared in front-page headlines about the 100 Iraqis killed in Baghdad as they were lined up to enlist in the police and security service. It was never reported that the next day, there were 300 lined up in the same place.

*The Iraqis are incredibly nationalistic. The media is way overblowing the Shia-Sunni divide. People describe themselves as Iraqi first, Moslem second, and their Shia/Sunni identity as a lowly third.

*After the January 30 election, the Mayor of Baghdad said, “The people of the region (the Middle East, including Iran) are joyous and governments are nervous.”

*Bin Laden and Zarqawi made a huge mistake when the former publicly declared the latter the leader and “prince” of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Iraqis heard this as a Saudi (Bin Laden) telling a Jordanian (Zarqawi) that his job was to kill Iraqis. This was an enormous error, and resulted in vast numbers of Iraqis jumping off the fence and siding with the Coalition and the new government.

*The 1st Cav has yet to lose a single tanker truck carrying oil and gasoline over the roads of Iraq. All the attacks seen on TV with IEDs (improvised explosive devices) blowing up trucks – and not one hit of the 1st Cav’s. Why? Army Aviation’s helicopter air cover. Every 1st Cav convoy has AH-64 Apache gunships riding shotgun. The terrorists scurry away.

*Progress could be made much more quickly with waivers removing ridiculous US government regulations and contracting rules. Task Force Baghdad could hire hundreds of Iraqis daily for $7-$10 a day to work on sewer, electric, and water projects – but the contracting rules demand $500,000 insurance policies for each worker in case he gets hurt. Such rules are slowing progress down.

The bottom is line is that all the 1st Cav troops say everything has been worth their effort and sacrifice. The payday was January 30, when they saw how the Iraqis handled their first election day in 6,000 years of their history. All Americans can be proud of what America’s soldiers have accomplished in Iraq.