View Full Version : AP Blog From Ramadi, Iraq

04-07-06, 08:51 AM
AP Blog From Ramadi, Iraq
Associated Press via Yahoo! News ^ | 2006 Apr 7 | Todd Pitman

AP correspondent Todd Pitman is embedded with U.S. Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment in Ramadi, Iraq.

THURSDAY, April 6, 10 p.m.


Sitting outside a sandbagged palace from the Saddam Hussein era that's now a U.S. Marine base, I set up my laptop and satellite phone and check e-mail. A sandstorm swept through a few hours ago, but it is clear again. It is a luxury to be able to check e-mail at all. There have been times in the past week that Marine commanders have temporarily cut off internet access for their troops. This happens when Marines die. It is vital that families are notified of deaths officially by the military, not by e-mails leaking back home.

I see a translator who I've ridden with through the city several times and we talk. He kneels next to me. "What is life but a vapor that appears for short while and vanishes away?" he says. "Life is very short. It is so precious. You learn to appreciate that here."

This interpreter, an American citizen born in Iraq, was with me when I rode over here in a small convoy for the first time. He had an M-16. I've never seen a translator with an M-16. "My life is precious, too," he told me, explaining he would only use the weapon in self-defense. Interpreters, especialy those who are born in Iraq like this man, keep their identities secret to prevent reprisals.

To put this level of danger in perspective, I have been asked by Marines — they were joking, of course — four separate times if I wanted to carry a weapon, a pistol at least, or an automatic rifle. I've been embedded both with U.S. troops in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and I've never been asked that question, even in jest.

Ramadi is perhaps the most dangerous place in Iraq. I don't know if the statistics back that up, but that is certainly the impression among all the Marines I've spoken to here, and myself. Everyday there are IED blasts, small arms attacks, snipers taking potshots. The level of violence seems leagues beyond the rest of the country. Everytime I have walked outside to set up my equipment at this spot, I have heard machine-gun fire. An aquamarine bridge along the edge of this base, now occupied by Marines, was firing yellowish flares last night to warn somebody to keep back.

Whenever we take a ride in Humvees out of the base, the gunner must brief me on what to do in case we are hit: by a grenade, by an IED, by a mortar round, by small arms fire. Each procedure is different.

Despite the violence, much of Ramadi is nevertheless normal. It is a functioning city. People sell fruit, appliances, air conditioners in the roads. You see children in the streets. Business goes on. Life goes on.

The center of Ramadi, though, is clearly a combat zone. Buildings have been shot up, torn through by rocket-fire, splattered with bullets or shrapnel, collapsed by 500-pound bombs.

In this area is the Government Center, a compound housing the governor's office. It looks more like a military base with Marines deployed along the rooftop in sandbagged posts covered with camouflage netting. Marines are here to keep the governor alive. Inside, industrial cables lay across the floor. Marines rest on cots in darkened hallways. Radios squawk with rumblings of operations outside. This place is attacked virtually every day by gunmen lurking in abandoned buildings surrounding it. They are no real match for the Marines' firepower, but they are relentless. One mortar round blew a hole in one of the wings of the building while I was there, but it didn't seem to bother anyone — though one police recruit was injured and taken to a hospital. The goal of such insurgent strikes is clearly to undermine local government. The commander of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment, Lt. Col. Steve Neary, pointed out that despite such violence, the governor comes to work everyday.

Not all tasks are easy though. Insurgents burned down or blew up Ramadi's cell phone towers, and with them, the landlines. The city has no phone service. A team of foreign technicians was in Ramadi this week to try to fix that. Lt. Col. Neary was arranging air power and a Marine unit to accompany the technicians who were to inspect the site — it would have been foolhardy to do so unprotected. But a vehicle in their convoy was hit by an IED blast. That, combined with some mortar explosions, sent the team packing. Today, the Marines sent one of their own engineers, a Marine reservist, to the site.

I've gone on several Marine patrols and raids outside Government Center. Nearly all the buildings around it are abandoned. It's an eerie place. There are burnt out shells of cars. There is a lot of trash. Each pile of garbage, each stray bag, each pile of dirt could be an IED. It makes you cringe. Today we saw the carcass of a bloated black cow. Even that could be an IED. On many of the walls, there is black spray-painted graffiti. I take photos, and now I ask the interpreter if he can tell me what one of them says. In the photo, a Marine is standing on a corner with eyes on the scope of his rifle, providing cover as his colleagues run across the street. Behind him, on the wall, are the words in Arabic, "Long Live the Mujaheeden." Another we passed several days ago said, "Kill traitors before the Americans."

"There is so much hate here," the interpreter says. "You get a different look at life when you come to place like this."

_Todd Pitman


04-07-06, 04:48 PM
April 07, 2006

Hi There The Drifter Todd Pitman:

This is a letter from a lonely college woman. Times shall get better. Keep your head up. You have to look on the bright side of things. You are alive, well healthy, fed good by the military, have family and loved ones at home awaiting your return, and most importantly God on your side. War is tough it is tough on all of us even here at the college we are trying to find away to stop the continuousness of this particular war in Iraq and bring our American troops home safe and sound. The Americans appreciate your service and know how dangerous your job is protecting us back at home from terrorism and that awful Osam Bin Laden and his Al Queda Crew. Here today at the College Library it is sunny, clear, nice, cool, and there sure are a lot of books to read to help get the college students more insight on diplomatic relations. The Americans know you will make it through. Hey, if you can get through boot camp you can get through the combat zone. That is why we have those nice good looking technical sergeants screaming down our throats all the time so that we can be strong and survive the hardest of times in war.

God walks with you in the darkness of danger and is ready to defend you at any given moment. Peace be with you my brother.