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Baghdad's Airport Road Safer Since Summer

An M1114 armored HMMWV patrols through Saydiyah, a residential and business district along Route Irish, the primary highway through Baghdad leading into the international airport and. Route Irish is amongst the most frequently bombed target for the insurgents in all of Iraq.

Baghdad (UPI) Oct 14, 2005
The Baghdad Airport road -- "Route Irish" in U.S. military parlance -- looms large in Western consciousness as one of the most perilous in Iraq. But there hasn't been a car bomb in three months, and the number of smaller, roadside bombs is significantly down as well.

Starting in July, Iraqi special police have set up checkpoints at all the feeders on the road, and American forces have been running aggressive patrols and fencing off areas that are habitually used as attack platforms. But rather than trying just to protect the road itself, they are pushing into the neighboring communities to root out those who lay bombs, fire rocket-propelled grenades and shoot rifles at cars on the road.

A quick glance of the numbers says the approach is working. In April 2004, there were nine attacks along the road, four of them devastating car bombs -- including one that killed American humanitarian aid worker Marla Ruzicka.

In May there were 12, with one car bomb. In June there were 10, with three car bombs. But in July and August there was just one roadside bomb each month, and no car bombs.

Through September 18 there were three roadside bombs and no car bombs.

"Irish has never been as dangerous as people thought," said Maj. Michael Rosamond, the operations officer for the 6-8 Cavalry of the 3rd Infantry Division.

But in one sense, the U.S. military may just be squeezing the balloon.

The increased emphasis on Irish security has pushed attacks north to what the U.S. military calls Route Michigan -- a major supply road. From four and five bombs on Michigan in May and June, respectively, the number shot up to 12, 27 and 13 in July, August and the first part of September.

Nevertheless, the military is pleased with the result.

"What it does show is if you implement necessary security checks to prevent him from bringing materials in, you can defeat (the insurgent)... or make it more dangerous for him," Rosamond said.

Getting Irish under control is vital for both the reality and perception of security in Baghdad; it's the one road that everyone -- and certainly every American -- is going to have to drive on at some point in their time in Baghdad.

The U.S. military has even worked out an elaborately secured road convoy that travels the eight-mile stretch into town at a different time each night -- it is always under cover of night -- with Bradley Fighting Vehicles and helicopter escorts.

It is an excruciatingly slow way to move people, but necessary given the fear that surrounds this stretch of highway and the tremendous public relations impact even one successful attack has.

Pushing the attacks up to Michigan, a less strategically important -- albeit heavily traveled -- road, is the compromise for now. The experiment on Irish, and on the surrounding neighborhoods, tells the 6-8 they know how to nip the attacks on Michigan -- just as soon as more Iraqi special police, or more regular police are deployed to secure those feeder streets as well.

Rosamond only has 130 soldiers available to work on Irish, and their hands are full.

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Iraqi Security Forces Improving
Washington (UPI) Oct 13, 2005
The Pentagon's latest assessment of Iraq's nascent security forces says there are over 200,000 Iraqis trained and equipped to fight, according to U.S. officials and documents.

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