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Home | The Sunni Heartland | The Unexpected War | Paying the Price

The Sunni Heartland

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Struggling to win hearts and minds

American soldiers were unprepared from this deeply religious conservative town. They tried to break the wall of resentment with a hearts and mind campaign. Staff Sergeant William Gaddis, a reservist from Arkansas, worked on a new soccer field.

"When the soldiers first started coming back in," says Gaddis, "none of the vendors would sell them anything, any cokes or snacks. And the kids were giving us the thumbs down and rocks getting thrown."

photo: Tom Bullock

On this day, children swarm the military work party, exchanging grins and chatter in broken English.

Staff Sgt. Gaddis asks them "Ya'll want to sing and clap?"

The children respond, clapping along, but the adults nearby are sullen and suspicious.

"You know, they may come tonight and tear this soccer field up," says Gaddis. "I don't know, but it's here anyway."

Within hours, the goal posts are gone; the fresh dirt carted away, the soccer field destroyed.

As the armed opposition in Anbar province grew, new groups announced themselves on Arabic language television: the Iraqi National Islamic resistance, Iraq's Revolutionaries, al-Anbar's Armed Brigades, the Black Banners Organization...shadowy groups that may or may not cooperate with each other or even share the same goals.

With each new funeral in Anbar province, local anger grew, as did approval for the armed opposition.

The American military insists the insurgents are organized and funded by Saddam Hussein and say the fury will subside once Saddam is captured or killed. But internal Defense Department research papers show no one knows exactly who is organizing the opposition.

So far, the best guess is a mixture of Saddam loyalists, homegrown religious extremists, and a small number of Arab fighters. Peter Galbraith says it also includes Sunni Arabs who hate Saddam, but believe the United States is dealing them out of the new Iraq.

"It's wishful thinking to assume that the opposition to the Americans is all supporters of Saddam Hussein," explains Galbraith. "It's also very dangerous thinking, because it underestimates the enemy and it underestimates the challenges. In fact, it's the same kind of false assumptions that has put the United States into the quagmire it is in now."

Next: Segment B - The Unexpected War

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