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Soldiers Become Beat Cops in Baghdad

A high-speed chase, Baghdad-style:

A group of Iraqi men are robbing a home when soldiers patrolling in Humvees roll by, startling them into a gunfight. The Iraqis squeeze off several shots and speed off down an alley of the residential neighborhood with the soldiers from A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment in pursuit.

Children on sidewalks back away from the street as men on corners point the way. A barefoot man waves for the soldiers to follow. They lose the shooters anyway.

Afterward, the barefoot man, Aki Ahmed, told the soldiers through an interpreter that the men were trying to rob his home. Ahmed offered to take the soldiers to the gunmen, whom he said he recognized.

When the first bullets whistled over their heads, the soldiers had thought it was sniper fire, but the Sunday gunfight and car chase turned out to be just another day of patrolling crime-ridden Baghdad.

Capt. Chris Carter, the commanding officer who led the chase, took over the area from a Marine unit Sunday.

The middle-class Sunni Muslim residents who live there are terrified of poor Shiite Muslims coming into their neighborhood from other parts of Baghdad. Looters are stripping everything from the houses, even hauling off marble floors.

"We are trying as much as we can, everyone with their own block, trying to keep security," said resident Hashim Mahmood, a civil engineer.

The interpreter explained to Carter that Ahmed was likely caught in a dispute with the gunmen, perhaps over who was entitled to the apartment. Carter promised Ahmed routine patrols past his home, and then arranged for another patrol to look for the men.

Mahmood spoke to Carter about where to position troops in the neighborhood just as two Shiites, explaining that they were homeless, asked Carter if they could occupy two government houses that had been looted and were empty.

"I'm not a real estate agent, and I can't give you houses," Carter, of Watkinsville, Ga., told the Shiite men.

As for Mahmood and his requests for more troops: "We'll do our best," Carter said.