RAMADI, Iraq -- "There was about a half mile stretch of the main road in town that instantly became a battlefield as we moved through it," explained Maj. Mike Wylie, the executive officer of 2nd battalion, 4th Marines (2/4). Wylie was describing the genesis of a truly violent clash on "Wicked Wednesday" here in Ramadi, the provincial capital that lies about 70 miles west of Baghdad.
Marines and soldiers were on patrol, making their way through town in the 120-degree mid-afternoon heat, when an improvised explosive device (IED) was set off by insurgents in an attempted ambush on the convoy carrying the executive officer of 2/4. The IED exploded beside the vehicle that was carrying our Fox News cameraman, Mal James, who jumped out of the humvee to capture some of the most dramatic war footage since the major hostilities of 16 months ago.
The ensuing battle, which involved upward of 600 soldiers and Marines and lasted for well over four hours, occurred near the government center, where, clearly, the insurgents do not want this government to succeed. Wylie, who did a magnificent job running the operation, called it a "large sized battle -- probably the third or fourth largest of our deployment." During the battle, 25 insurgents would be killed, 17 more wounded, and another 25 taken off the streets and into custody. Fourteen Marines sustained minor injuries during the clash.
The attack began with the detonation of an IED, whose cousin is the VBIED -- Vehicular Born Improvised Explosive Device, or car bomb. IEDs are the preferred form of attack in Iraq against coalition forces and the new Iraqi government, whether they are used in vehicles or simply in trash cans off to the side of the road. The enemy no longer wants to face soldiers and Marines head-to-head, as evidenced by the lopsided outcome of Wednesday's firefight.
One evening earlier in the week, just after 9:00 pm, the Marines responded when Iraqi police called in what they said was a suspected VBIED. The Iraqi officers pulled up to a vehicle parked in the middle of a six-lane highway, inspected it and took off upon realizing it was a car bomb. Though the Iraqi police are training to deal with IEDs, they don't yet have the kind of equipment that the Marines do to neutralize them. So the Marine explosive ordinance disposal team was dispatched with a security force from Weapons Company.
While preparing to deploy a robot to detonate the bomb, Weapons Company was attacked by mortars. A Marine on the scene decided instead to use a TOW, a wire guided anti-tank weapon, to destroy the IED, which they did in dramatic fashion.
Sgt. Jeremiah Randall is the TOW section leader in 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines. It was one of his gunners who shot the 2.5-pound warheads that destroyed the IED. Though the TOW's range is about 3,750 meters, the shots taken against this IED were from only about 350 meters. Randall explained that the close range actually made the shot more difficult because the gunner doesn't have time to adjust the shot.
That IED was eliminated before it had the chance to do any harm. The Marines are also decreasing the insurgents' effectiveness by manning observation posts at strategic locations throughout the city of Ramadi. There are Marines on these outposts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The purpose of these outposts, which are very hot during the day and very lonely at night, is to ensure that the Iraqi authorities know if something is going wrong.
Sgt. Shell of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines has been here since February. He told me that these observation posts help the Marines provide better defensive security for themselves and for the Iraqis.
The Iraqi government supports the effort, knowing these observation posts help provide security for the country. In fact, even after the transfer of sovereignty, the new Iraqi government wants these Marines out there in this province. The Iraqi police are doing a better job of securing the areas and improving every day, but they still need the help of the Marines. Shell told me that the Iraqi police force is getting better because, "ultimately, the Iraqi police realize it is up to them to provide the safety and security -- not just for the country, but for their fellow citizens."
To do that they will have to continue to combat not only the local insurgents, but the foreign fighters from neighboring states like Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, who continue to cause trouble.
But the belief among those I talk to is that democracy, if given time, can take root here. Since I was last here in April, things are getting better. Since sovereignty was turned over, it has been the Iraqis who have been enforcing curfews and increasing their patrols. There will be more efforts to undermine the new government here, but if the coalition continues to follow the lead of the United States -- not the Spain and the Philippines -- democracy will ultimately succeed.