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thedrifter
08-02-06, 08:32 AM
Marines still struggle to get control of Sunni city
By ANTONIO CASTANEDA
The Associated Press

RAMADI, Iraq - Peering over piles of sandbags in this ravaged city, U.S. Marines sometimes see more gunmen on the streets than municipal employees going to work.

The provincial governor regularly arrives at his office with armed guards. Young Marines notice few others on his staff trail behind.

After three years of war in Ramadi, the U.S. military has yet to move from combat to stabilization operations in most of this Sunni Arab city of 400,000 people, the capital of Anbar province.

Here, full-fledged combat still rages. Efforts to build a local government have faltered.

In just four months, one Marine has fired 27 rockets. Another estimates that he's fired 5,000 rounds from a .50-caliber machine gun. One marksman has 20 confirmed kills. His superiors believe that he's probably killed 40 more, but they aren't sure.

The U.S. military said Sunday that four Marines assigned to the Regimental Combat Team 7 were killed in action in Anbar province, although it did not say where.

Residents of Ramadi are afraid to walk near the offices of the Anbar provincial government, which is supposed to administer an area the size of North Carolina, with about 1 million inhabitants.

"There's been a concerted campaign against government officials that's had some great success ... the government center is nearly devoid of governance," said the top Marine intelligence officer for the 3rd Battalion 8th Regiment, who asked not to be identified because of security policies for intelligence officers.

This year, policemen were stationed in a rebuilt station within the compound, but daily attacks scared them away. Now, the freshly painted police station is empty, surrounded by police cars with tires flattened by mortar shrapnel. Iraqi soldiers were also relocated to safer parts of the city, leaving the government's defense again in the hands of Marines.

"The only way this thing is going to get normal is if Iraqis stand up for themselves," said Sgt. John Strobridge, 21, of Orlando, Fla., as he walked through the empty police station. Pointing to the damaged police vehicles, he said, "As you can see, they didn't last long."

In recent weeks, the U.S. military has tried to remove neighborhoods from insurgent control, building outposts deeper into the city to extend the reach of its patrols. Marines are also trying to expand the city's so-called "Green Zone," a calmer western neighborhood of about 25,000 people near a cluster of U.S. bases.

But in the heart of the city, the war is unabated.

"The number one thing I'm looking to do is kill the enemy," said Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio, 30, of New York, commander of Company K 3rd Battalion 8th Regiment. "I do that knowing that when I do that, I allow the Iraqi government to function."

The Marines defend a U.S.-appointed government that's struggled to build its credibility in this mostly Sunni Arab city.

Since the toppling of their longtime patron Saddam Hussein, Sunnis have fallen out of power and the once-repressed Shiites have ascended.

DEVELOPMENTS

Four U.S. Marines assigned to the Regimental Combat Team 7 were killed in action in Anbar province west of Baghdad, the military said. No other details were provided.

A U.S. F-16 jet dropped two precision-guided bombs on a building near Baghdad used by militants affiliated with a group believed to be responsible for a mortar-and-rocket attack in Baghdad's mostly Shiite district of Karradah last week that killed at least 31 people, U.S. officials said. Two militants and a child were killed in the airstrike, and four suspects were arrested.

Gunmen killed at least 23 Iraqis on a highway south of Baghdad, commandeering three minibuses and herding their occupants into nearby palm groves where they were lined up and shot, according to police and a witness.

SOURCES: The Associated Press, The Washington Post

Ellie