Monday, May 07, 2007

ON Point in Anbar: The Tide Turns in Ramadi (Part 2 of 2)

05-07-2007, 11:24 AM • by ON Point

Ramadi’s successes—and challenges—have started to garner attention from mainstream media. Although a pair of suicide bombs hit the city yesterday, killing 20 ON Point follows last week’s article with several profiles of personalities, events, and issues that have been the talk of the town in recent weeks. Here’s a look inside Al Anbar Province and its capital, Ramadi:

Latif’s the Man

The security provided by the Marines in Ramadi is reflected in the work of the mayor, Latif Obaid. Having organized the 3rd Economic & Reconstruction Conference, Mayor Latif, a professional and thorough mayor promoting his city with all the skills and enthusiasm of any mayor back in the States, took a few minutes to talk to ON Point about Ramadi. Quotes include:

- “We plan to provide the same services as you have in America; water, sewage, schools, sanitation, electricity.”

- “We can claim victory over AQI because of what the Marines and Coalition have done.”

- “The people of Ramadi need to work hard to keep the victory.”

- “The Marines – IP’s – IA’s need to continue to work together for the good of the people and the good of Ramadi.”

Conference Garners Big Numbers

Last month’s Economic & Reconstruction Conference had over 200 attendees, predominantly local sheiks and Iraqi contractors, who gathered to discuss street paving, soccer fields, contracts, and bidding. They also prioritized the needs of the city in their meeting.

The founder of the Sons of Anbar, Sheik Sattar al-Rishawi, was also present for the April event, but he sat back and let the Mayor and his District Council run the show.


More from the Sheik

Inaccurately called “Sheik al-Risha” in a recent Christian Science Monitor article, Sattar al-Rishawi has become both the beacon and the lightning rod for Ramadi. In late March, he survived yet another AQI assassination attempt. In his spare time, he helped form the new Sunni political party “Anbar Awakening.” The sheik and ON Point talked privately after the conference about his views on Ramadi, Anbar, and Iraq:

ON Point: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Coalition say that the battle for Baghdad is the most important struggle today. Do you agree?

Sheik Sattar al-Rishawi: No. What is happening here is of equal importance. We are proving that AQI can be defeated by joint Marine and Iraqi efforts.

ON Point: Last month the Prime Minister made a much publicized visit to Ramadi. Are you now getting the support he promised?

Sattar: We need the money he promised for [Iraqi Army] salaries, weapons, trucks, and equipment. The approval process from the MoI/MoD takes forever.

ON Point: Can you tell us more about your new political party, “Anbar Awakening?”

Sattar: We [the Sunnis] want to participate in the national government. We are an important part of this land, and we need to be heard. We are talking to our brothers in Fallujah, Taji, Zorba, and northeast Baghdad.

ON Point: Three years ago, the Marines fought a fierce battle in Fallujah…

Sattar: That was against foreign fighters. General Zilmer [the former commanding general in al-Anbar] was my friend. General Gaskin is my friend. We want the Marines to stay.

Interviewing the General

Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin, who commands the 25,000-person II MEF (Fwd), is responsible for the security of Anbar, the largest province in Iraq with a population of 1.7 million Sunnis. When Gen. Gaskin and II MEF assumed command responsibility in February from Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer and I MEF, Gaskin emphasized continuity in his actions and policies. Two weeks ago, ON Point had an opportunity to talk with Gaskin about his first months in Anbar. Here’s what the general said:

- “We want to build on the foundations I MEF left us. They built some strong local relationships, which I want to continue.”

- “1/ 6 did it the right way [in Ramadi]. They used bullhorns to give out information, like the imams do at the mosques. They secured the neighborhoods, so that only those who belong there can get in.”

- “Listen to the tribal leaders on a personal level. Talk to the tribes, the I/As [soldiers] and the I/Ps [policemen]. You have to know the neighborhoods.”

- “The Sunnis didn’t participate in the last election, but now they are sorry. They will participate in the next elections. They want the same things that we have: electricity, employment, water, health care, rule of law, and working sewage, and they know that we can help them achieve these goals.”

- “I am responsible for the entire province, with 6 major cities [Fallujah, Ramadi, Habbaniyah, Haditha, Hit, and Al Qaim]. In each city I want to see a viable and effective I/A and I/P presence, a mayor, a chief of police, economic development, and the sheiks and tribal leaders on board. When we have these, we own the town.”

- “We need to be careful that we don’t hold the I/A’s and I/P’s to some unreachable American standard. They need to know how to fight as squads, companies, and battalions in their role of defenders of their country’s borders.”

- “We know we have a political timetable, and are dealing with a new government in Baghdad as well. That government is only 10 months old and still going through massive growing pains. We can win this, but not on an artificial political timetable.”


Anbar: Past and Future

The Army’s Raider Brigade from Fort Stewart, Ga., arrived in Ramadi at the end of February. They replaced the Ready First, and are building on the foundations that 1/ 6 Marines, Sheik Sattar, the Ready First, and Sheik Jasim built. The new arrivals would be wise to demonstrate some humility.

“Ramadi is free of Al-Qaeda” Raider Col. John Charlton crowed last week. “We’ve driven them out.” Maybe, but this is an insurgency, and not a conventional war. Two days after he made this statement, the 17 day respite was broken by 2 VBIEDs attacks on an I/P position. No one was killed, but five were wounded in that attack. And yesterday’s tragic attacks are a reminder of the bad days of a year ago.

The Marines departing are more circumspect. “Things are certainly better than when we arrived,” admitted Lt. Col. Bill Jurney, 1/6 commanding officer. Gen. Gaskin mentioned the need to get out of the cities (once they’re secured), and go after AQI in the countryside. “We’ll go find them where they don’t expect us,” he said. “We’ll go after them where ever they are.”

With Ramadi and Anbar are being held out as examples of American – Iraqi co-operation, it is worth remembering the efforts that both sides have made to get this far. 1/ 6 had 12 KIA, 100 WIA. Shiek Sattar lost 4 brothers and his father. Sheik Jasim lost 5 brothers, and his tribe alone lost more than 200. And the exact count of the Ready First’s losses was unavailable, but not meager. If Ramadi and Anbar are the showcase of the war, it is worth noting the effort and valor that led to the accomplishment.

Despite Col. Charlton’s boast, Ramadi is not yet 100% pacified. The terrorists know that the I/P’s are rooting them out and are targeting them accordingly. The checkpoint system is working, but at a cost. The insurgents are no longer targeting just Americans and the Iraqi Army; there have been 527 attacks in Anbar just on I/P’s, who respond by rolling up terrorist after terrorist.

Yet the local Iraqi population in and around Ramadi, led by Sheik Sattar, Sheik Jasim, and the other leaders of Sons of Anbar, continue to rally with the Marines and Army. Last month some 1,400 Iraqi’s signed up to be policemen. They are signing up faster than America can train them.


Lubin’s Parting Thought

As I finish my latest embed, I’m left with one overarching thought. It is important that the Raider Brigade, the USAID workers, and the State Department’s Provincial Reconstruction Teams who are now arriving with their American expertise in zoning law, tax law, and other do-good ideas are cognizant of the history of blood and sacrifice that preceded them. They would do well to remember 1/ 6’s HM3 Christopher “Doc” Anderson, Capt Travis Patriquin of the Ready First, and all the other American dead who helped make Ramadi and Anbar Province the success it is today.

ON Point senior correspondent Andrew Lubin is enjoying a well-earned vacation at his home on the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border.

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