During his State of the Union address in January, President Bush uttered these chilling words: "The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people, and it is unacceptable to me." The president went on to say "It's clear we need to change our strategy in Iraq."
With that sweeping statement and the subsequent proposed surge of 21,500 additional troops to Iraq as a backdrop, the Pentagon Channel is examining the future of Operation Iraqi Freedom in a new edition of its monthly half-hour documentary, "Recon."
"A New Way Forward" follows servicemembers conducting often dangerous house-to-house operations in Baghdad and scrutinizes statements by the commander in chief as well as outgoing and incoming military leaders.
The idea for this Recon originated when Pentagon Channel anchor Army Staff Sgt. Jake Newman traveled with Army Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Iraq and Afghanistan during the 2006 winter holidays.
Newman stayed behind to take a first-hand look at Operation Together Forward, the Iraqi-led mission to clear Baghdad neighborhoods of insurgents with coalition support. That strategy proved inadequate in part because once troops had cleared one neighborhood of insurgents then moved on to clear a new area, insurgents streamed back into the original area.
"Baghdad has been described as the center of gravity in Iraq," said Newman. "The security situation is a complex and layered problem, with the violence focused along Sunni and Shia fault lines."
Newman teamed up with American Forces Network reporter Army Pvt. Chris Urbano to give viewers a gritty look at the situation in Iraq and provide some historic context for the current unrest.
"Some attribute the violence and hatred between Sunni and Shiia as directly linked to the coalition presence in Iraq," Urbano said. "But conflict has been a fact of life (in Islamic countries) for centuries. Originally the conflict stemmed from a difference of opinions in who should have succeeded Mohammed as the leader of Islam."
Pentagon Channel cameras followed U.S. servicemembers as they patrolled tense neighborhoods, such as Dorah, where death squads have broken into homes, kidnapping and killing citizens targeted strictly because of their religious beliefs.
"The problem is because of these militias," said an Iraqi civilian who did not want to be identified by name. "If we want to get some materials for my shop, we have to go out of these districts to get these materials. These markets (in our neighborhood) are controlled by the militias."
Recon viewers will see first-hand the delicate balancing act servicemembers must perform as they search homes to gather intelligence and to enforce laws such as ensuring that each household has only one registered firearm.
"We confiscated your weapon, OK?" a soldier explained to an Iraqi family as Pentagon Channel cameras recorded the interaction. "We're going to take it with us, OK? But that's your paperwork from us saying we took your weapon. That's the name of your gun, its serial number, OK?"
The documentary also exposes basic needs of Iraqi citizens that rarely make headlines. "The newest problem is they need an additional budget to maintain their trash trucks," said a U.S. soldier interviewed in his Humvee on a Baghdad street. "So that's why they've been sending down all these tractors into this area."
"The vast majority of workers on these projects are Iraqis," Urbano said. "They are rebuilding their own city, stimulating the local economy and making the new structures their own."
"I hope the Iraqi citizens realize that we're friends of theirs, and we'll build a relationship with the children," said Army Capt. Rich Amaron, who appears in the documentary, "so in 15 to 20 years from now, they're our friends, and they're the leaders of this country, and they'll look back and remember from the times in their school when they were young, that we're not the bad guy and we're in fact trying to help them."
Aspects of Operation Iraqi Freedom have been front and center during recent Senate confirmation hearings of Army Gen. David Petraeus, incoming commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and Gen. George Casey, incoming Army chief of staff. Scenes from the war zone are broadcast daily on network and cable news outlets. And now with the production of "A New Way Forward," viewers will be able to take a fresh look at the big picture of this complex mission.
"A New Way Forward" debuts Feb. 13 at noon Eastern Time on the Pentagon Channel and will encore throughout the month. It will also be available via podcast, vodcast and video on demand.