Time: War-torn Baghdad neighborhood is quiet -- too quiet

No, seriously. The troops stationed there think so, too.

The silence is eerie. After opening the US Army’s first combat outpost (COP) in Baghdad last month the men of Charlie Company, 2-12 Cavalry, had gotten used to gunfights raging nearby, the crack of bullets passing overhead, and the explosion of rocket-propelled grenades. After all, this was Ghazaliyah, where Sunni insurgents and Shi’a militiamen have battled each other, the Iraqi Army and Police, and the Americans for months.

In the past week, though, the men have been unnerved by absence of the sounds of war. “It’s been quiet-really, really, quiet,” said Sgt. Sergej Michaud, 24. Michaud has cropped his dark hair nearly to the scalp, and he has a tattoo of a helmeted skull on his left forearm with TANKER printed below. Like many other soldiers at the COP he relishes the chance to drive towards gunfire and separate the combatants in Iraq’s sectarian war. That was routine for his platoon until a few days ago, when the violence suddenly dropped almost to nothing… Gunfights with insurgents and militiamen worry Sgt. Michaud less than figuring out where those enemies have gone. “I have no idea,” he said. “It’s kind of scary. It’s kind of scary.”

Shot in the dark here, but does Michaud’s name ring a bell? It should. He was mentioned in a high-profile NYT story a month ago about Charlie Company being besieged on all sides of the makeshift fort they’d built inside Ghazaliyah. So gripping was it that it warranted the rare HA double-link, first in one of my posts about the Mahdi Army and then in Bryan’s essay about reporting in Baghdad. It’s great to see the situation’s improved, sort of: according to the troops there, the Shiites are still muscling Sunnis out of the area (albeit with a lower profile per Sadr’s orders) and a big jihadi attack on the base is expected at any time, but the rounds whizzing by Michaud’s head as described in the Times piece are, for the moment, absent.

Still, these are soldiers we’re talking about so they’re expecting the worst. I leave you with a darkly funny quote comparison. From the NYT piece on January 22nd about Ghazaliyah’s thunderstorm of violence:

Over the course of three days spent with the 105 soldiers here — Company C of the Second Battalion, 12th Cavalry — four American vehicles were hit by roadside bombs near the outpost. No soldiers from Company C were wounded, but they know the fighting will intensify.

“I’m a juicy target they are just trying to figure out,” said Capt. Erik Peterson, 29, the commander at the outpost.

And from Time’s all-quiet-on-the-Ghazaliyah-front article today:

An attack on the COP would send a powerful message, and Charlie Company has redoubled its effort to secure the compound. On Wednesday night a platoon sergeant taped “CCP” in giant red letters to a wall in one of the COP’s main rooms. “CCP” indicates a casualty collection point, where wounded soldiers would be gathered for treatment and possible evacuation. “I think I’m a big, fat, target right now,” Peterson said.