Nov 4, 2007

Ramadi: Success feeds Success

Last October I was embedded in Ramadi with 1st Battalion 6th Marines as they kicked in doors, fought insurgents, and began to clear the city block by block. It cost the lives of a lot of good Marines, most under age 25, but their efforts and sacrifice convinced a few local citizens that the Marines understood the difference between “Iraqi’s” and “Al-Quada” – and so the charismatic Sheik Sattar Abu Risha formed the Sons of Anbar, and began co-operating with LtCol William Jurney’s young Marines.

What a difference a year makes.

From 200 local citizens joining the Iraqi Police forces in 2006, there are now in excess of 8,000 trained Police in Ramadi today. There is more electricity in Ramadi than any other city in the country, normally including Baghdad. Schools have re-opened throughout the city; the two grade schools once guarded by Alpha Co. 1/6 today have 2,000+ students studying daily. They ran a 5K race through the center of the city in September, as a way of announcing to the world that “Ramadi has survived.” Essential services such as sewers are being repaired, and water treatment and sewage plant was rebuilt also – much to the relief of the local citizens.

It is important to note that much of the success here was achieved at the cost of Ramadi blood and treasure also. The 5K race run triumphantly through the city was named after Captain Ali; an Iraqi policeman who was killed last November stopping a suicide bomber headed for a Police outpost. When the insurgents attacked the townspeople at his funeral the next day, they rose up and drove the insurgents off, and from that day onward, the people of Ramadi joined the Iraqi Police’s by the thousands. The attack at Capt Ali's funeral is routinely cited today as one of the tipping points that turned public opinion against the insurgents

Sheik Sattar Abu Risha formed the Sons of Anbar after his father and three brothers were brutally killed by Al-Qaida –Iraq. An intelligent and compelling man, Sheik Sattar was sickened by the violence against his family and tribe, and by force of will and the 1/6 Marines, convinced his fellow tribal leaders to stand and fight against AQI. Success begat success, and by Feb-March-April, the Iraqi Police, Ramadi citizens, and the Marines were driving AQI from the city and surrounding areas.

But success comes at a price, and in September Sheik Sattar was assassinated in his front yard. Yet the city did not fall apart, and according to Col John Charlton, the current American commander in Ramadi, the people declared Sattar to be a martyr, and worked even harder to complete his vision of peace in Ramadi and friendly co-operation with the Americans.

On October 23, the end of the 40 mourning period for Sheik Sattar, the city sponsored a parade in his honor.

Lead by a troop of Ramadi Boy Scouts, and followed by a new unit of Ramadi Girl Scouts, approximately 2,000 Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army marched through the streets of Ramadi in the Al Anbar Unity Parade which was held in honor of Sheikh Sattar Abu Risha. More that 300 sheikhs and dignitaries attended the parade which was planned and executed by provincial and tribal leadership. The event was covered on Iraqi television, and in the Iraqi news, as some twenty Arab media attended to cover the event.

The western mainstream media, unfortunately, missed covering it, as well as the significance that in no other city in Iraq can such a parade be safely held. And while an AP article of 28 October mentioned disapprovingly that 135 Army and Marines have died in Anbar Province this year, a interesting comparison is that these 135 deaths are less than half the 2007 murder rate in Philadelphia – it’s measurably safer to live in Ramadi than Philadelphia today.

While Al-Qaida has been driven from the city, it has not been driven from Anbar Province, nor from Iraq. But in Ramadi – which the Marines thought in August 2006 was fully under control of the insurgents, is THE example of Iraqi-American co-operation.

There is an economic boom taking place: there are rebuilding projects; the porcelain factory is being re-opening next month, shops are re-opening, and better-quality food and goods are for sale in the markets - and salaries have risen 20 % in the last six months. For as Mayor Latif Obaid said to me in April when I attended his 3rd Economic Development Conference,” Ramadi is open for business – come visit us!”

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