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The Anbar Awakening

Posted by Richard on September 13, 2007

Gen. Petraeus, in his report to Congress, repeatedly mentioned Anbar province and the dramatic improvements in the security situation there. If you're skeptical, or just want to know more about it, there are some excellent first-person reports available.

The best place to start is Michael Totten's Anbar Awakens Part 1: The Battle of Ramadi. Totten doesn't whitewash the current situation at all, but he makes it clear what a vast improvement it is from the truly grim situation last year. How and why things changed makes a fascinating read:

In October of last year the tribal leaders in the province, including some who previously were against the Americans, formed a movement to reject the savagery Al Qaeda had brought to their region. Some of them were supremely unhappy with the American presence since fighting exploded in the province's second largest city of Fallujah, but Al Qaeda proved to be even more sinister from their point of view. … The leaders of Anbar Province saw little choice but to openly declare them enemies and do whatever it took to expunge them. They called their new movement Sahawa al Anbar, or the Anbar Awakening.

"AQI announced the Islamic State of Iraq in a parade downtown on October 15, 2006," said Captain McGee. "This was their response to Sahawa al Anbar. They were threatened by the tribal movement so they accelerated their attacks against tribal leaders. They ramped up the murder and intimidation. It was basically a hostile fascist takeover of the city."

"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."

"A massive anti-Al Qaeda convulsion ripped through the city," said Captain McGee. "The locals rose up and began killing the terrorists on their own. They reached the tipping point where they just could not take any more. They told us where the weapon caches were. They pointed out IEDs under the road."

"In mid-March," Lieutenant Hightower said, "a sniper operating out of a house was shooting Americans and Iraqis. Civilians broke into his house, beat the hell out of him, and turned him over to us."

"One day," Lieutenant Hightower said, "some Al Qaeda guys on a bike showed up and asked where they could plant an IED against Americans. They asked a random civilian because they just assumed the city was still friendly to them. They had no idea what was happening. The random civilian held him at gunpoint and called us to come get him."

Doesn't that just warm the cockles of your heart? Even better, Totten reports:

The tribes of Anbar are turning their Sahawa al Anbar movement into a formal political party that will run in elections. They also hope to spread it to the rest of Iraq under the name Sahawa al Iraq. It is already taking root in the provinces of Diyala and Salah a Din.

For confirmation of the current state of Ramadi from a mainstream journalist who's at best neutral, read Martin Fletcher's remarkable article from The Times of London. It also tells the story of the late Capt. Travis Patriquin, who helped bring about the Awakening and today has a Ramadi police station named after him:

The honour is well-deserved. Captain Patriquin played a little-known but crucial role in one of the few American success stories of the Iraq war.

He helped to convert Ramadi from one of Iraq’s deadliest cities into arguably the safest outside the semi-autonomous Kurdish north. This graveyard for hundreds of American soldiers, which a Marine Corps intelligence report wrote off as a lost cause just a year ago, is where the US military now takes visiting senators, and journalists such as myself, to show the progress it is making.

In Ramadi last weekend I did things unthinkable almost anywhere else in this violent country. I walked through the main souk without body armour, talking to ordinary Iraqis. Late one evening I strolled into the brightly lit Jamiah district of the city with Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Turner, the tobacco-chewing US marine in charge of central Ramadi, to buy kebabs from an outdoor restaurant – “It’s safer than London or New York,” Colonel Turner assured me.

Read the whole thing. Then, if you still want more, turn to the dispatches of Michael Yon. Ghosts of Anbar, Parts I-IV, are up close and personal views of what's going on elsewhere in the province, including Fallujah, with lots of terrific insights interspersed with appropriate quotes from the military's counterinsurgency manual. If you only have time for one, read Part IV, the most recent. Here's a taste: 

After we pulled back from the suspected bomb, SSG Lee wanted to go talk with the Police at the Falahat train/police station, so we left the small group of Marines. SSG Lee and I headed out alone with Iraqis.

SSG Lee stressed to the Police that we needed statements, so people from Falahat came in and gave written statements. Iraqis respond to a sense of justice. The importance of this fact cannot be overstated, and it is this sense of justice on an international scale that gets undermined when people are held in prisons without being charged with any crimes.

To many of the Iraqis I’ve spoken with, terrorists are fair game. Kill them. But if we kill justice while doing so, we will create terrorists out of farmers. Here the Marines are creating farmers, police officers, shepherds, and entrepreneurs out of insurgents. To do that, they have to be seen as men who respect and honor legitimate systems of government and justice.

From the counterinsurgency manual that every Marine and Soldier should read:

1-119. The presence of the rule of law is a major factor in assuring voluntary acceptance of a government’s authority and therefore its legitimacy. A government’s respect for preexisting and impersonal legal rules can provide the key to gaining it widespread, enduring societal support. Such government respect for rules—ideally ones recorded in a constitution and in laws adopted through a credible, democratic process—is the essence of the rule of law. As such, it is a powerful potential tool for counterinsurgents.

SSG Lee made sure the Iraqis treated them well during transport, and when we returned to the tiny base, Captain Koury told the Marines not to leave any of the prisoners alone with the Iraqis. The Iraqis can be rough on prisoners—the culture can be rough—but mentoring seems to be working where it occurs.

There's much, much more, and if you're like me, you'll be sucked in.

Another independent journalist reporting from Fallujah is Bill Ardolino, who recently described an afternoon chatting with the locals:

Through a local interpreter, we talked about their changing opinion of Americans, Iraq's prospects, the misery of living under al Qaeda, the joys of kabob and favorite soccer teams. Their open and friendly nature is hard to reconcile with the violent history of American-Iraqi interaction in Fallujah, and many of them charitably chalk it up to a "misunderstanding."

Towards the end of a long conversation with one group, I said, "Well, I wish you luck. And I want you to know, besides the marines and soldiers that you meet here in the city, there are many civilians back in America who hope for Fallujah's success."

The afternoon's joking died down as the interpreter translated and each of them earnestly told me "shukran" ("thank you"). And one young guy blurted out in halting English, "We like you!"

Backatcha, buddy. Now I'm off to hit that kabob.

Mmm. I like kabob. 

If you appreciate the detailed, on-the-ground reporting and analysis these independent journalists have been providing at great personal risk and expense — and which mainstream journalists like Martin Fletcher do only rarely — please join me in financially supporting the work of Michael Totten, Michael Yon, and Bill Ardolino. Consider, too, supporting the new Iraq embed just begun by Bill Roggio and David Tate.

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