View Full Version : Marines say control lost in Ramadi

05-24-06, 06:44 AM
May 23, 2006
Marines say control lost in Ramadi
U.S. troops can’t rein in insurgents of Sunni area


RAMADI, Iraq— Whole neighborhoods are lawless, too dangerous for police. Some roads are so bomb-laden U.S. troops won’t use them. Guerrillas attack U.S. troops nearly every time they venture out — and hit their bases with gunfire, rockets or mortars when they don’t.

Though not powerful enough to overrun U.S. positions, insurgents here in the heart of the Sunni Muslim triangle have fought undermanned U.S. and Iraqi forces to a virtual stalemate.

“It’s out of control,” says Army Sgt. 1st Class Britt Ruble, behind the sandbags of an observation post in the capital of Anbar province. “We don’t have control of this ... we just don’t have enough boots on the ground.”

Reining in Ramadi, through arms or persuasion, could be the toughest challenge for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s new government. Al-Maliki has promised to use “maximum force” when needed. But three years of U.S. military presence, with nearly constant patrols and sweeps, hasn’t done it.

Today Ramadi, a city of 400,000 along the main highway running to Jordan and Syria, 70 miles west of Baghdad, has battles fought in endless circles. Small teams of insurgents open fire and coalition troops respond with heavy blows, often airstrikes or rocket fire that’s turned city blocks into rubble.

“We’re holding it down to a manageable level until Iraqis forces can take over the fight,” Marine Capt. Carlos Barela said of the daily violence battering the city.

How long before that happens is anybody’s guess.

U.S. and Iraqi commanders say militants fled to Ramadi from Fallujah during a devastating U.S.-led assault there in 2004. Others have joined from elsewhere in Anbar, blending into a civilian population either sympathetic to their cause or too afraid to turn against them.

They’ve destroyed police stations and left the force in shambles. The criminal court system doesn’t function because judges are afraid to work; tribal sheiks have fled or been assassinated.

While al-Maliki has vowed to crush the insurgency, a major military operation to clear Ramadi risks destroying any hope of reaching a political settlement with disaffected Sunnis.

U.S. commanders also say a Fallujah-style operation is not in the cards, at least not yet, and might not have the desired effect. “That would set us back two years,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Neary, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.

However, the status quo with its bloodletting doesn’t sit well with the troops.

“We just go out, lose people and come back,” said Iraqi Col. Ali Hassan, whose men fight alongside the Americans. “The insurgents are moving freely everywhere. We need a big operation. We need control.”

Some Americans also say ground needs to be taken and held. Most U.S. missions typically consist of going out, coming under fire and returning to base — leaving behind a no-man’s-land held by neither side that insurgents in black ski masks always pour back into.

“This just ‘we ride out, hold it for an hour, get hit, ride back in and now we don’t hold it anymore,’ what’s the point?” said Ruble of the Army’s 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. “I believe in the cause and I believe in doing good, but when were going out, getting hurt and ... not accomplishing anything, why are we going out there?”

The sheer scale of violence in Ramadi is astounding.

One recent coalition tally of “significant acts” — roadside bombs, attacks, exchanges of fire — indicated that out of 43 reported in Iraq on a single day, 27 occurred in Ramadi and its environs, according to a Marine officer who declined to be named because he’s not authorized to speak to the media.

And that, he said, was “a quiet day” — when nothing from Ramadi even made the news.