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10-01-08, 03:41 PM #1
Dillow in Iraq: Turning bad Karmah to good Karmah
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Dillow in Iraq: Turning bad Karmah to good Karmah
Terrible things have happened at this natural 'choke point' of insurgent activity.
The Orange County Register
KARMAH, IRAQ – The Marines are trying to make good Karmah out of bad Karmah.
Karmah – actually in Arabic it's pronounced more like "Garmah" – is a town and district of about 50,000 predominately Sunni Muslims situated between the cities of Fallujah to the west and Baghdad to the east. As such it has for years been a natural "choke point" of insurgent activity for al-Qaeda in Iraq and its insurgent subsets.
Terrible things have happened here. In fact, there was a time when Karmah was considered to be one of the most dangerous places in Iraq.
I was first here in 2004, and then again in 2006, times when mortar and sniper and IED attacks on Marines were an almost everyday occurrence. It was near this town, by a canal to the north, that Lance Cpl. Marcus Glimpse, the son of my friend Guy Glimpse of Huntington Beach, was killed by an IED in April, 2006. He was one of many – too many – young Americans who have died here.
As with other towns and cities in Anbar province, things are better now. Iraqi security forces are in place, working with the Marines, and some 1,500 or more mostly former insurgents in the Karmah area are now members of the so-called Sons of Iraq, the quasi-military forces that for the time being are our payroll. (More on that later.)
There's a new medical clinic and a new water treatment facility here. Stores are open, there's fresh produce in the markets, people are back on the streets.
But unlike in far western Anbar, in cities like Haditha and Qaim, there is still a war going on in Karmah. It is a low-intensity and thankfully low-casualty conflict, and with people back home preoccupied by economic troubles, this war doesn't make the headlines. But Marines, sailors and soldiers are still here fighting it.
Just last June three Marines, including a battalion commander, were killed by a suicide bomber at a meeting of local leaders here; 20 Iraqis also died. In recent weeks, insurgents killed two Iraqi policemen and kidnapped and tortured to death another; there have been periodic IED, rocket and small arms attacks on Marines.
No Americans have been killed by enemy action here since the June attack, but it has sometimes been a close thing. For example, recently an Iraqi man ran up to a Marine on patrol, pointed a pistol at the Marine's head at close range and pulled the trigger.
The man's pistol misfired; the Marine's M-16 did not.
And just this week there was a new twist. Insurgents handed out realistic-looking toy AK-47s and pistols to some Iraqi youths, who wound up pointing them at some Marines on patrol – which, given the earlier attempted attack, was more than a little disconcerting.
"They're trying to get us to kill a kid," says Lt. Col. Andrew Milburn, commander of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, part of Camp Pendleton-based Marine Regimental Combat Team 1 – with all the anti-American propaganda possibilities that would provide. But these Marines are too disciplined, too well-trained, to fall for it.
Again, compared with a few years ago the violence level here is low. And the 1-3 Marines take pride in the fact that since the battalion arrived, every attack on U.S. troops here has resulted in Marines and Iraqi security forces capturing or killing at least some the insurgents responsible.
But the enemy is still out there.
"We've already picked off the weak sisters," says Capt. Paul Stubbs, commander of 1-3's Charlie Co. "The ones that are left are smarter. But we'll roll them up, too."
Meanwhile, everyone here – Marines, Iraqi security forces, civilians, insurgents – is waiting to see what the next few pivotal months will bring.
The goal here and in the rest of Iraq is for U.S. forces to pull back into their bases in an "overwatch" position and put daily security matters fully in the hands of Iraqis. To that end, Lt. Col. Milburn and his Marines spend endless hours meeting with Iraqi security forces and local authorities, trying to get them ready to be on their own.
It's a task that requires diplomatic, financial and cultural skills as well as military ones – and given the history here, it demands no small amount of courage.
"There've been some hard won gains here," Lt. Col. Milburn says. "But Iraqis see Karmah as a weathervane. They're worried about the prospect of the Marines leaving and AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) coming back. And we're concerned too."
I'll have more about good Karmah and bad Karmah in my next column.
CONTACT THE WRITER GordonDillow@gmail.com
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
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