The U.S. assault on Fallujah in November 2004, widely perceived as the greatest coalition victory of the Iraq war, ended enemy control over the city. But advance notice of the attack meant that most of the fighters killed were probably seeking martyrdom. The rest simply scattered like rats. Many of those rebuilt their nests in the al Anbar province capital of Ramadi, hiding among its 400,000 residents.
I visited the city in early October—the holy month of Ramadan, a period of fasting and prayer for the devout, and a time to show Allah just how willing a terrorist or insurgent is to die—and to kill—for Him. I was embedded with the 1st Brigade Combat Team (1st BCT), commanded by Col. Sean MacFarland. I received a briefing from Capt. Travis Patriquin and Col. Peter Lee.
In a lengthy Weekly Standard article of Nov. 27, “Return to Ramadi,” I detailed how Patriquin and Lee described how coalition forces break down the “anti-Iraqi forces”—the forces opposing the elected government of Iraq—into four categories. First are the unaffiliated foreign fighters. Second is al Qaeda in Iraq, comprising both local and foreign terrorists. Third are local resistance fighters who served under Saddam and are trying to get back the good life. Fourth are organized criminals and smugglers who are just in it for the bucks.
The plan to pacify these forces is the same as that for pacifying the country as a whole and drawing down U.S. troops—continuing to turn over more responsibilities and more geographic area to the Iraqi army and police. And in Ramadi, the transfers seem to be working. The Iraqi Army 1st Brigade, 7th Division (1/7) and the Iraqi Army 1/1, the oldest Iraqi Army unit in the country and considered by many to be the best, are capable – as I’ve witnessed – of defending themselves and counterattacking.
American heavy support still comes in handy and 1st BCT keeps coming up with new ways of constricting the enemy’s movements and killing him. Just before I arrived, they bulldozed uninhabitable government buildings that had been used for attacks and sniping. “The government center was one of the most dangerous areas of Ramadi,” Lee said. “The enemy would come in from their strongholds and seize buildings across the street and attack.”
Engineers are hauling away the rubble. Once it’s cleared, they plan to build a park.
The coalition is now so confident of security that it has begun $15 million in public works, including hauling the rubble near the government center, $1.4 million for a water treatment and power generation plant, and $6.5 million for Ramadi General Hospital. Applying the “broken windows” theory of crime, even trash disposal is a major part of the budget.
People always ask how the Iraqis feel about Americans and the war in general. I respond that they just tell you what they think will prove advantageous to them, a combination of complaints and praise for Ameriki (America). Non-embedded American reporters run into the same thing.
I asked one north Ramadi farmer through a translator if he thinks Ramadi is getting safer. He starts out with a few complaints, such as lack of water from the Euphrates for his fields because of rationing, and then tells me: “But safety is 100 percent better now that the Americans have come along.” Baloney. Things got a lot more dangerous when we first came along. They may or may not be safer now than a year ago, but this guy isn't going to tell me. None of them will.
Soldiers also give different accounts of the extent of progress in Ramadi. A driver of a truck used to destroy improvised explosive devices (IEDs) told me nothing had changed since his last deployment; yet the very fact that he was heading into Ramadi in a tiny lightly-armed convoy indicated otherwise. Another soldier told me Ramadi is now “a thousand times better.” Ultimately each was simply another blind man feeling his part of the elephant. With my three embeds in Al Anbar and two in Ramadi, I’d like to believe I’ve felt quite a few parts of the elephant.
There’s no “stay the course” strategy here; the course changes as necessary and it’s continually changed for the better. I believe we are winning the Battle of Ramadi. And if the enemy can be beaten here, he can be beaten anywhere.