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12-12-06, 05:58 AM #1
Marines in western Iraq see progress
Marines in western Iraq see progress
By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press Writer
Almost none has heard of the Iraq Study Group, and though a few know that Donald Rumsfeld is out as Defense Secretary, the name Robert Gates draws blank stares.
While much of America broods over the future of a bloody, expensive and increasingly unpopular war, the Marines and soldiers fighting it in the volatile cities and vast deserts of western Iraq say the big picture doesn't concern them — they're just worried about accomplishing small tasks and getting home in one piece.
"You think about Iraq on a national level but so much of what happens is out of our hands — its downfalls or successes," said Lane Cpl. Steven McAndrew, a 21-year-old from Columbus, Ohio.
McAndrew is a member of the Marines' 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, assigned to Rawah, a desert city of about 18,000 carved into a peninsula that juts out over the Euphrates River in the remote, northern expanses of dangerous al-Anbar province, west of Baghdad.
A popular retirement community for former officers of Saddam Hussein's army and high-ranking bureaucrats of his government, Rawah is considered a key staging area for insurgents, who cross into Iraq from Syria, then stop here en route to such hotbed cities as Ramadi and Fallujah.
McAndrew and the other members of Company D live in a three-story police station that looks luxurious from the outside but has no running water, power that comes for a few hours than goes out for days and very little heat — even as temperatures plunge well below freezing.
The outpost takes mortar and machine-gun fire and rocket attacks every few days, insurgents stash roadside bombs and the recent announcement of a death sentence against Saddam prompted a wave of attacks against American forces here.
The battalion has had three Marines killed and 80 wounded since arriving in September, but has also increased the local police force from four officers to nearly 100, while strengthening the Iraqi army.
Some Marines said those debating the future of the war don't have any concept of what daily life in Anbar is like.
"It's freezing cold, you have to do very, very hard work and do patrols at all hours of the day or night and you never get to sleep enough," said Cpl. Robert Vales, a 21-year-old New Yorker, also on his second Iraq tour. "It grates on you."
The Marines share the station with Iraqi police and spread their sleeping bags over rows of metal bunk beds that are piled with Kevlar gear, toiletries and clothing.
It is so cold that Marines wear knit caps and gloves day and night, and after dark fire up a gas heater that looks, smells and sounds like a jet engine. Getting too close is dangerous because it gives off sudden flares that can singe anything they touch.
Gorge Iliev, a Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class who serves a medic for the Marines, said frustration is mounting because many in Rawah have never fired their weapons at insurgents who attack, then vanish.
The strategy has shifted from combat to focusing on training Iraqi security forces and reaching out to residents, in hopes they will help weed out anti-U.S. guerrillas. But things get more complicated when locals are the ones doing the attacking, Iliev said.
"We're getting fired on almost every day," he said. "It's hard to relax. We're not here to relax, we're here to do a job. But we're human."
At an Army outpost inside a mansion in central Ramadi, soldiers have power, heat and Internet — but still no running water. They said they are worn out from more than 11 months in Ramadi, among the most dangerous cities in Iraq.
In Rawah, where things are calmer but still dangerous, simple pleasures like heading to a nearby base to shower for the first time in several days, or an impromptu game with a soccer ball in a hallway is sometimes enough to raise sprits — at least for a time.
"There's a meal and a roof. Sometimes I can get warm," said Sgt. Geoffrey Rumph, 25-year-old from Orlando, Fla., who was huddling near a gas stove outside the police station's front entrance.
12-12-06, 02:21 PM #2
Columbus Marine among those seeing progress in western Iraq
December 12, 2006 12:56 EST
RAWAH, Iraq (AP) -- While much of America wrestles with what to do about the unpopular war in Iraq, Marines on the ground have other concerns.
Lance Corporal Steven McAndrew of Columbus is among Marines in western Iraq who say they're focusing on small tasks and getting home in one piece.
McAndrew says so much of what happens in Iraq -- its downfalls or successes -- is out of the hands of U-S troops.
He and other members of the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion live in a three-story police station with no running water, very little heat and power that rarely comes on. Some Marines say the dangers and challenges they face are lost on those who are debating the future of the war.
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