Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Ramadi rebirth - one block at a time

I usually put the articles on the side of the page, but I thought this one is pretty good. To see it on Military.com Click here!

ON Point | Andrew Lubin | February 13, 2007

There's more news from Ramadi than just gunfire, IEDs, and Marine casualties. This is a city that is slowly returning to life.

The catastrophic destruction, visible throughout the town, was inflicted both by Iraqi insurgent and militia groups, as well as by Marines. But recently, the local residents have said "enough," fought back, and started rebuilding their city.

The most visible symbol in Ramadi -- a city of over 400,000 and the capital of Al Anbar Province -- is the Government Center. This building is the political heart of the province. And despite the presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and a smattering of other local insurgents, the Government Center is open for business.

Inside the building, Al Anbar Province Governor Mamouon Sami Rasheed presides over a council of Deputy Governors. His ministries include Education, Water, Sewage, Housing, Fire Stations, Health, and Communications & Telecom. Also represented is an elected Provincial Council. Like any provincial council, they meet, they discuss, and they work on plans for rebuilding their city. The new mayor, Latif Obaid Ayadah, just took office two weeks ago.

“I want to give the work to those who have come forward to help secure our city,” said Mayor Latif, according to a recent Marine Corps News article. “We don’t want to concentrate on certain individuals, but spread the work to involve more of the people.”

According to the article, the growth of Ramadi’s police force is the mayor’s top goal for the near future. “I hope for the return of all the police to the city for its security, because reconstruction cannot happen without it,” Mayor Latif said in the report.

But until the police return in full strength, the Marines will be on the streets. One recent result of the Marine presence is the reopening of markets. People shop -- during the day, at least -- for food, petrol, and clothing.

While American dollars are always welcome, the Iraqi Dinar is increasing in value. The local currency has strengthened 10 % since October 2006 against the Dollar, decreasing from D1500 to D1300 against U.S. $1. Ramadi’s contractors prefer payment in dinars instead of dollars. In Ramadi, the government’s food distribution system now operates as it did before the war. People don’t eat well, but they don’t starve.

The men of 1st Battalion, 6th Marines (1/6) have contributed to Ramadi’s resuscitation. Lieutenant Colonel William Jurney, 1/6 commanding officer, took the Marine concept of “clear -- hold -- build” and refined it. Instead of making these three separate tasks, he had his Marines work them simultaneously in each Marine outpost, in conjunction with Iraqi soldiers, policeman, and neighborhood citizens as the situation allowed.

Schools are also re-opening. Marines from Captain Kyle Sloan’s Alpha Company keep tabs on two schools that have 2,000 students. Teachers operate 4 shifts each day, the Marines said. With Ramadi having an educated, middle-class populace, a combination of retired Sunni Iraqi Army officers and educated civilian professionals, the locals are trying to regain a normal life for themselves and their children. By patrolling the area, the Marines say, they have enabled the residents to regain the normal life that “the terrorists” had forced away.

Shortly after the Marines arrived in Al Anbar in 2004, Al Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI, destabilized the government -- which had remained relatively intact -- through a reign of terror and brutal intimidation. Some of the smaller sheiks and tribal leaders tried to stand against them. They were killed, decapitated, or simply disappeared.

Unlike the civil war in Baghdad, the brutality in Ramadi has been slightly easier to define. Although multiple Sunni insurgent groups emerged -- AQI, Ba’ath loyalists, fundamentalists, and Mafioso-style sheiks -- they all attacked anyone who worked with Americans. The local government was equally targeted. The result? Tribes refused to cooperate with the Americans. To do so meant death.

In referring to AQI, the term “terrorist” was used commonly by the locals, as it accurately described the tactics used. These men and their hired local guns targeted Iraqi Police, their families, the IP stations, Marines, their convoys, and any other high visibility targets available.

Because massive artillery, air, and infantry attacks could not be used to stabilize the city, the Marines have employed classic counterinsurgency concepts. They have pushed outposts into the city, handled security on a block-by-block basis, and then promptly handed over newly-secured areas to the Iraqi Police. Then, the battalion moves further into the city.

Although suicide attacks, firefights and IED explosions continue, those attacks are measured now in how many per week, instead of how many per day. As the “Outpost Concept” has proven successful, the local citizenry has bought into the idea and begun to co-operate. The largest tribes banded together, effectively saying that they’d “had enough” of AQI’s killing sprees. The elders sent their young men to join the Iraqi Police and root out “the terrorists.”

Last year only 40 local men volunteered to join the IPs. But this December, 800 volunteered to serve. In Ramadi, a job as an IP is now considered an honorable and respected position.

It took a year before the people of Ramadi were convinced that the Marines could and would provide the protection and security they needed. But now that they understand this, the tribal elders have banded together, joined forces with the Marines, and worked together to begin Ramadi’s restoration.

The city of Ramadi still has years of recovery ahead. Fortunately, the locals have begun taking the lead in the reconstruction. With the Marine concept of “simultaneous clear-hold-build” enabling the sheiks and locals to fight back against AQI and their hired thugs, the future of Ramadi might be one of the brightest in the Sunni Triangle.

“It’s neighborhoodism before nationalism,” said Major Daniel Zappa, 1/6 executive officer. To their credit, the Marines of 1/6 have aggressively used this motto to their advantage in their fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq.

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