By Charles Levinson | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
March 30, 2006
MOSUL, IRAQ – In a middle-class neighborhood on the bank of the Tigris River, Charlie Company's 4th Platoon dismounts from their armored vehicles and starts banging on doors. They're going house to house, talking to residents, looking for information on insurgents in this city of 1.8 million.
While the soldiers' reception varies, one Christian family welcomes them with smiles. But misunderstanding quickly ensues.
"Please don't take our weapon," the mother of four pleads in Arabic when US Army Staff Sgt. Josh Clevenger comes across an AK-47. "We need it to defend ourselves. It is not safe, anything can happen."
As he stands in the living room, Sergeant Clevenger has no intention of confiscating their rifle - nor any comprehension of the woman's plea. With his platoon's lone interpreter elsewhere, he is effectively rendered speechless.
"Your weapon is filled with blanks," Clevenger, from Muncie, Ind., says to the woman, his voice unwittingly rising as he tries to convey helpful information. "These aren't real bullets - they won't protect you."
For US soldiers who don't grasp the language or the culture here, a central part of their mission - generating goodwill and support - remains far more difficult than capturing insurgent leaders. While their officers remain largely on message and outwardly optimistic, many of the front-line men like Clevenger, who patrol "outside the wire" twice daily, say that their patience is wearing thin.
"I don't want to stay here too much longer. The Iraqi Army is getting to where they can get a hold of things now," says Clevenger. "The longer we're here and the more times they attack us, the more they're going to figure out how to better their attacks."
More than a few soldiers of the US Army's 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team stationed in this Sunni-Kurdish city in northern Iraq, shuddered last week when President Bush said total withdrawal of US troops "will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq." Three years after the invasion, many soldiers say it's time to hand over control to Iraqis. Most of those interviewed echoed a recentZogby poll of 944 military respondents throughout Iraq, that found that 72 percent of US troops favor withdrawal within the next year.
"I think we're doing good things here, but I think we need to start pulling it out," Spc. Mathew Merced, a jovial infantryman from Mcinnville, Ore., says, scanning Mosul's al-Karama neighborhood from a trash-strewn rooftop.read rest if article at link