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08-13-07, 07:39 AM
August 13, 2007, 7:20 a.m.

Welcome to Ramadi
U.S. Marines host a party of diplomats and tribal sheiks.

By Mario Loyola

Ramadi, Iraq — I was not told about our trip to Ramadi — provincial capital of Iraq’s Anbar province — until the night before. This was in order to preserve “operational security”: We were to meet U.S. Ambassador Roy Crocker and presidential envoy Meghan O’Sullivan, for a tour of what only a few months ago was the most feared insurgent stronghold in all of Iraq. No matter; no amount of warning could have prepared me for what I was about to witness.

Back home, the media has apparently gotten bored of pessimism about Iraq; optimism is now coming into vogue. The basic story (e.g., “A War We Might Just Win”) is by now familiar. At its center is the “Anbar Awakening,” in which Sunni tribes that were once bitterly opposed to the Coalition have turned in our favor and against al Qaeda.

That much I knew in advance. What I could not have imagined was the extent and tightness of the cooperation between the Americans and the local Anbaris — at every level. After four years of constant fighting, peace is unmistakably coming to Anbar province.

Helicopter Convoy to Ramadi
We took off from Camp Fallujah, “divisional” headquarters of Coalition forces in Anbar, in a convoy of two Chinook helicopters, escorted by two Cobra attack helicopters. The mid-morning flight took about 30 minutes.