The Magazine

Can Petraeus Pull It Off?

A report on the progress of our arms in Baghdad, Baqubah, Ramadi, and Falluja.

Apr 30, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 31 • By MAX BOOT
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This is a testament to the success of Colonel Charlton's men not only in the "clearing" phase but, just as important, in holding onto their gains. In the past, U.S. troops would follow up a successful offensive by retreating to their remote, heavily fortified Forwarding Operating Base, and insurgents would slink back into the area just liberated at a heavy price in blood. To avoid that happening this time, Colonel Charlton and his battalion commanders have moved many of their men off the main base, Camp Ramadi, and sent them to live in the city. U.S. troops have established four bases in Ramadi itself along with more than 40 Joint Security Stations and Observation Posts where they work alongside Iraqi soldiers and police. There are also 23 police stations in the city and surrounding area. Those mini-forts are located within eyeball range of one another, as I saw for myself when I went to a rooftop Observation Post at one Joint Security Station and was able to discern close by another Coalition outpost. Surveillance capacity is increased with the deployment of computer-controlled cameras on 100-foot poles. U.S. and Iraqi forces have spun such a tight web in town that insurgents are having a hard time crawling back in.

Having completed clearing operations, the American forces are now in the "build" phase of their campaign, trying to repair the damage and win over the populace. An integral part of this effort is the Voice of Ramadi, a daily show broadcast over public address speakers located atop the Joint Security Stations that provides everything from European soccer scores to local news. The stars of the show aren't Americans. They're local Iraqi officials who record messages for broadcast.

Charlton knows it will take more than words to consolidate his success so far. The locals have to see concrete gains from cooperating with the Coalition. Literally. They need to see their town, devastated by war, rebuilt. The roads need to be resurfaced, the water mains repaired. This may be the most challenging part of the American task because it requires money that is not readily forthcoming. Charlton is tapping CERP (Commander's Emergency Response Program) funding at his disposal to pay for $4.4 million worth of projects, but he estimates the entire cost of cleanup will be at least $10 million. He is hoping that someone--perhaps the U.S. Agency for International Development--will foot the bill. Ideally the cost should be borne by the government of Iraq, but whether through incapacity or unwillingness, the Shiite-dominated government is not at the moment sending much money to Sunni-dominated Anbar province.

Yet, for all the shortcomings of their government, Iraqi forces have begun to play a key role in Coalition operations, and nowhere more than in Ramadi. Key to the success of this undertaking has been the recent decision by most of the major Anbar tribes to turn against al Qaeda. From 2003 to 2006, the sheikhs who traditionally dominate life in this rural province were happy to fight alongside al Qaeda against the American "crusaders" and the "Persians" (Shiites) who now run Baghdad. But al Qaeda went too far for their taste. Its indiscriminate violence against civilians, its attempts to impose fundamentalist sharia law (banning even smoking), and, perhaps as important, its attempts to muscle in on the smuggling networks controlled by the tribes--all this alienated the people of Anbar. A coalition of sheikhs based in Ramadi, led by Sheikh Abdul Sattar, has decided to throw in their lot with the Coalition in the fight against al Qaeda. Twenty-two of the Ramadi-area tribes are now cooperating with the Coalition; only two are still standoffish. In some parts of Anbar, fighting has erupted between al Qaeda and more nationalist, less fanatical "resistance" movements such as the 1920 Revolution Brigades.

The tribal forces are still too weak to defeat al Qaeda's ruthless fighters on their own (and probably always will be), but they have been of critical help in generating tips that aid Coalition forces. They are also now encouraging their sons to join the Iraqi police and army. Last year, few if any Sunnis were signing up. Now so many are eager to join that training facilities are swamped and there is a waiting list of recruits. Sunnis are also willing to serve in local governments. Ramadi has just installed a new mayor and city council.