Thursday, February 22, 2007

Signs of normalcy in Al Anbar... a market near Hit filled with people and produce.

TURNING A CORNER IN AL ANBAR… I spent last week in two of the toughest areas of Al Anbar province; Hit and Ramadi. It was my first trip to Hit, which has been reported as one of the most difficult areas remaining in Western Iraq and my second trip to Ramadi, the provincial capital and epicenter of the insurgency less than a year ago. What I saw and experienced in both places was a source of encouragement and optimism about the future of Al Anbar. I recognize that the following will be a controversial statement, but based my observations across the province, it is my conviction that we are absolutely winning the war against Al Qaeda and its allies in Western Iraq.

City by city and neighborhood by neighborhood, the citizens of Al Anbar are deciding to take their province back from the radicals who have murdered and intimidated them for the past few years. Local leaders are steadily recognizing that they have more to gain by working with the United States than with AQI. Area by area, this part of Iraq is “flipping” to become an environment that will no longer harbor insurgents. Robbed of their veil of anonymity, terrorists must either flee or be killed or captured by US or Iraqi Security Forces. As Iraqis assume control of more and more battle space, US forces are being freed up to go into areas where we have previously had little or no presence, thereby denying insurgents many of the remote areas they have previously used to rest and refit.

In addition to the Marines and Soldiers out risking their lives each day to improve the safety and security of Iraq, the heroes in each city are the Iraqi police (IP) who are standing up in record numbers to protect their neighborhoods. I was surprised and pleased to discover that there are hundreds of police on duty in Hit. These “shirta” are assuming a growing role in the fight against insurgents in their city, which is situated northwest of Fallujah and Ramadi, further up the Euphrates River Valley. They have stabilized many of the communities around Hit and are steadily penetrating the city itself.

The police have been growing rapidly in Ramadi for several months and are now restoring a degree of normalcy to many parts of the provincial capital. A key ingredient in their growing capability and influence has been their effective partnership with coalition forces. I was particularly impressed with the efforts of 1st Battalion, 6th Marines in this regard during my stay with them last week. They are making a huge investment in the success of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in their area of operations, giving up some of their best Marines to work directly with their Iraqi Army (IA) and Police counterparts. They have partnered with the IA and IP down to the lowest levels and are conducting combined patrols and operations on a daily basis. The synergy of American technology and firepower with the cultural/linguistic knowledge and local savvy of Iraqis is powerful. Insurgents are being steadily squeezed into a smaller and smaller sphere of influence in the city, and this sphere is moving away from the Provincial Government Center. This core of terrorists, which one senior leader in Ramadi called “the heart of darkness of the insurgency in Ramadi,” is being pressed from all sides. Not surprisingly, they are lashing back at this pressure, but if the police and people of Ramadi remain resolved, the outcome may be inevitable.

The Marines and their brothers in arms in Al Anbar are making huge strides… they have turned a corner from a recent past of violence and hopelessness to a future where stability and prosperity can be envisioned. To reach that end-state, which Americans and Iraqis desire with equal fervor, Al Anbar will need help from its dysfunctional national capital… Baghdad. More on that soon.


At 11:24 AM, Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 02/23/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Kyle C said...

Mr. Wheeler,
It's good to hear that things are going well over there. We all miss you in class but Ms. Harrod is doing a good job. Basketball ended last night with our loss in the sectional semi-finals. We ended up 19-3. Everything else is pretty normal. It's been really interesting reading you blogs. They are great to hear compared to the news. Stay safe. We all can't wait for you to come back. You're in our prayers.


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