Streets in some parts of Sadr City run black with sludge. Damaged power lines provide at best only four hours of electricity a day.
Many U.S. soldiers were unprepared for what they found. During a patrol last week, American troops brushed flies from their faces as they drove through rotting heaps of refuse and excrement piled outside houses. One soldier opened the door to his Humvee and vomited.
For now, the atmosphere in the neighborhood is not openly hostile. Posters of al-Sadr, who led two uprisings against coalition forces in 2004, no longer appear on billboards and walls. Even some of the anti-American graffiti spray-painted on buildings had been covered.
In recent days, Iraqi interpreters who work with the Americans have been threatened by residents who call them "snitches" and "traitors." Children who last week flocked to soldiers hoping for candy now shout profanities as they pass.
U.S. soldiers worry that unless things improve _ and soon _ the people of Sadr City will quickly tire of the foreigners' presence.
"There are a lot of days when I'm like, 'It's going to take a miracle to make this work,'" said 1st Lt. Jacob Czekanski of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment as he stared at a soccer field surrounded by trash. "We will always be viewed as outsiders here."
"There's an appearance of peace here," said Maj. Joe West, who trains Iraqi police in Sadr City. "But living in peace with Tony Soprano isn't peaceful at all."
Hundreds of Shiite Muslims, beating their chests in mourning, accompanied 17 coffins through Baghdad's main Shiite Muslim district yesterday, demanding that militiamen be allowed to protect them after a wave of attacks blamed on Sunni Arab insurgents.
Iraqi officials have reported a slight drop in recent weeks in the number of execution-style killings that are a signature of the Mahdi army. But some of the Shiite mourners at yesterday's funeral complained that the decision to rein in the militia has left them exposed to Sunni Arab militants aiming to intensify the country's civil war. "Despite the heavy security presence in Baghdad, we are seeing the terror and bombings escalate and more innocents being killed," said one man, who identified himself by a traditional nickname, Abu Fatima Sadi. "When the Mahdi Army was providing protection, there were no violations."
Hm. So, how much do any of you want to bet that Sadr's people are still there, albeit more covertly, and that some of them could be using funerals and protests as a way of changing public opinion?
The U.S. can't even make a few hundred thousand people from New Orleans happy, so we're suddenly going to make millions of Sh'ia happy and secure in short order? Not likely.
Something tells me that first will come Sh'ia deaths and protests, followed by intimidation of Iraqis working for the U.S., reconstruction projects that don't really take off fast enough, increased anti-U.S. propaganda,.. and then we'll start seeing those posters of Sadr going back up, in a flurry of "spontaneous public support".