Michael J. Totten, an independent journalist working in Iraq, has an excellent two-part report on the Anbar Awakening, particularly in Ramadi, Iraq (HT: Hugh Hewitt).
Part One is "The Battle of Ramadi." In it, Totten describes the takeover of Ramadi by al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
Al Qaeda was initially welcomed by many Iraqis in Ramadi because they said they were there to fight the Americans. The spirit of resistance against foreign occupiers was strong. But the Iraqis got a lot more in the bargain than simply resistance.
“Market Street [the main street downtown] was completely controlled by Al Qaeda,” Lieutenant Welch said. “They rolled down the streets, pointed guns at people, and said we are in charge. They had crazy requirements for the locals. They weren’t allowed to cut their hair. Girls were banned from going to school. They couldn’t shave or smoke. One guy defiantly lit a cigarette and they shot him four times.”
After Al Qaeda took over Ramadi, the local government was replaced with terrorists who only cared about fighting Americans and violently suppressing Iraqis. Al Qaeda was in charge, but it wouldn’t be accurate to say they were the new government. None of the basic city government services functioned. There was no electricity, no running water, no telephone service, and no garbage collection. Every single local business closed down. The city could not have been any more broken.
That was about the time that everyone, even the optimists in the military, saw Ramadi as lost to AQI.
And then Totten talks about this spring, when the people of Ramadi turned against AQI (emphasis in the original).
Sheikh Jassim’s experience was typical.
“Jassim was pissed off because American artillery fire was landing in his area,” Colonel Holmes said. “But he wasn’t pissed off at us. He was pissed off at Al Qaeda because he knew they always shot first and we were just shooting back.”
“He said he would prevent Al Qaeda from firing mortars from his area if we would help him,” Lieutenant Hightower said. “Al Qaeda said they would mess him up if he got in their way. He called their bluff and they seriously f***ed him up. They launched a massive attack on his area. All hell broke loose. They set houses on fire. They dragged people through the streets behind pickup trucks. A kid from his area went into town and Al Qaeda kidnapped him, tortured him, and delivered his head to the outpost in a box. The dead kid was only sixteen years old. The Iraqis then sent out even nine year old kids to act as neighborhood watchmen. They painted their faces and everything.”
“Sheikh Jassim came to us after that,” Colonel Holmes told me, “and said I need your help.”
“One night,” Lieutenant Markham said, “after several young people were beheaded by Al Qaeda, the mosques in the city went crazy. The imams screamed jihad from the loudspeakers. We went to the roof of the outpost and braced for a major assault. Our interpreter joined us. Hold on, he said. They aren’t screaming jihad against us. They are screaming jihad against the insurgents."
Part Two is called, "Hell is Over."
“As of July 30,” Major Peters said in early August, “we’ve have 81 days in the city with zero attacks since March 31.”
“We’ve had only one attack in our area of operations in the past couple of months,” said Captain Jay McGee at the Blue Diamond base. He was referring to the Jazeera area immediately north of the city and including the suburbs. “And we haven’t had a single car bomb in our area since February.”
Violence has declined so sharply in Ramadi that few journalists bother to visit these days. It’s “boring,” most say, and it’s hard to get a story out there – especially for daily news reporters who need fresh scoops every day.
“You know what I like most about this place?” [Marine Lieutenant Colonel Drew Crane] said.
“What’s that?” I said.
“We don’t need to wear body armor or helmets,” he said.
I was poleaxed. Without even realizing it, I had taken off my body armor and helmet. I took my gear off as casually as I do when I take it off after returning to the safety of the base after patrolling. We were not in the safety of the base and the wire. We were safe because we were in Ramadi.
I saw no violence in Baghdad, but I would never have taken off my body armor and helmet outside the wire. I certainly wouldn’t have done it casually without noticing it. If I had I would have been sternly upbraided for reckless behavior by every Soldier anywhere near me.
But in Ramadi the Marines are seriously considering dropping the helmet and body armor requirements because the low level of danger makes the gear no longer worth it.
How's that for a turnaround? And how come we haven't heard about it in the mainstream media? Or in Congress?
Read both parts. They're long but well worth the time, and they have lots of pictures.