By Fr. George Welzbacher
August 12, 2007
"Let not your right hand know what your left hand is doing" (Matthew 6:3). This admonition was unwittingly heeded by the editorial board of the New York Times in the paper's edition dated Sunday, July the eighth. In the special section called The Week in Review, as the editorial page explained how the war in Iraq is already lost, the section's leading story, beginning on page one, gave a detailed and persuasive account of how Iraq's hitherto most fiercely anti-American sectors (the five Sunni provinces, with the westernmost province, Anbar, the most anti-American of them all), have turned away from supporting A1 Qaeda and under the leadership of their tribal sheikhs have joined forces with us. The reporter is one of the Times' most seasoned foreign correspondents who has shown repeatedly over the years that he calls the shots as he honestly sees them, with precious little regard for his editors' leftist bias. May I share his report with you, with some abridgment to accommodate our restrictions of space.
* * * * *Showcase and Chimera in the Desert
By John F. Burns, Ramadi, Iraq
Sunni merchants watched warily from behind neat stacks of fruit and vegetables as Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odiemo walked with a platoon of bodyguards through the Qatana bazaar here one recent afternoon. At last, one leathery-faced trader glanced furtively up and down the narrow, refuse-strewn street to check who might be listening, then broke the silence.
"America good! Al Qaeda bad!" he said in halting English, flashing a thumb's-up in the direction of America's second-ranking commander in Iraq.
watched over by American machine-gunners in sandbagged bunkers on the roof of the governor's building across the road. Until only a few months ago, the Central Street bazaar was enemy territory, Ramadi was Iraq's most dangerous city, and the area around the building the most deadly place in Ramadi. Now, a pact between local tribal sheiks and American commanders has sent thousands of young Iraqis from Anbar Province into the fight against extremists linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The deal has all but ended the fighting in Ramadi and recast the city as a symbol of hope that the tide of the war may yet be reversed to favor the Americans and their Iraqi allies....
The Anbar turnaround developed just as Mr. Bush was committing nearly 30,000 additional American troops to Iraq in a bid to regain control of Baghdad and the "belt" areas that surround it. The so-called troop surge reached full strength in mid-June, and the results so far [This report was written in early July] have been mixed. In any case, the Pentagon has told American commanders it can be maintained only until next March, at the latest.
This has left commanders looking beyond the surge's end, to a point when the trajectory of the war, increasingly, will be determined by decisions the Iraqis make for themselves. So the question is whether the Anbar experience can be "exported' to other combat zones, as Mr. Bush suggested, by arming tribally based local security forces and recruiting thousands of young Sunnis, including former members of Baathist insurgent groups, into Iraq's army and police force ... It was to seek some answers to these questions that General Odierno, operational commander of coalition forces in Iraq, made his Ramadi trip .... Ramadi, which lies on the edge of a desert that reaches west from the city to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, had a population of 400,000 in Saddam Hussein's time. That was before the insurgents-a patchwork of Al Qaeda-linked militants, die-hard loyalists of Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath Party and other resistance groups fighting to oust American forces from Iraq- coalesced in a terror campaign that turned much of the city into a ghost town, and much of Anbar into a cauldron for American troops. Last year, a leaked Marine intelligence report conceded that the war in Anbar was effectively lost, and that it was on course to becoming the seat of the Islamic militants' plans to establish a new caliphate in Iraq.
The key to turning that around was the shift in allegiance by tribal sheikhs. But the sheikhs turned only after a prolonged offensive by American and Iraqi forces, starting in November, that put Al Qaeda groups on the run, in Ramadi and elsewhere across western Anbar.
Not for the first time, the Americans learned a basic lesson of warfare here: that Iraqis, bludgeoned for 24 years by Saddam Hussein's terror, are wary of rising against any force, however brutal, until it is in retreat. In Anbar, Sunni extremists were the dominant force, with near-total popular support or acquiescence, until the offensive broke their power.
The Ramadi crackdown picked up earlier this year with the arrival of the Third Infantry Division's First Brigade Combat Team, under the command of CoL John W. Charlton, a 47-year-old native of Spokane, Wash., who like many American soldiers in Iraq is on his third tour in Iraq in four years.
Colonel Charlton's troops, backed by Marine units, have teamed with the Iraqi Army in clearing the extremists from one Ramadi district after another. In February, the extremists were averaging 30 to 35 attacks daily. By late June, the average was down to one a day, and the American had counted nearly 50 days with no attacks at all.
Across Anbar, according to figures compiled by the American command, insurgent attacks fell from 1,300 last October to 225 in June. The command says the Ramadi offensive put more than 800 extremists out of action-more than 200 killed or wounded, and nearly 600 captured. American losses in Ramadi in the same period, were 19 soldiers and Marines killed, through Iraqi security force casualties were higher. In the wake of their offensive, American and Iraqi units moved out of large bases on Ramadi's outskirts to establish more than 100 smaller posts across the city, most of them in previous no-go zones. Now, Colonel Charlton says, "We are living among the people," building relationships with local leaders.
Along with this, the Americans have revived local government structures, and launched a $30 million program-part of a $300 million effort across Anbar-to repair war damage, compensate property owners and finance start-up businesses. Thousands of families have returned to neighborhoods they abandoned, and house prices have leapt upward, quadrupling in some areas. "We couldn't go more than 200 meters from this base when I arrived," said Capt. Ian Brooks, a Marine officer at one new neighborhood base. "Now, I can walk the streets without any problem."
But the change that made all the others possible, American officers say, was the alliance with the sheihks. In Ramadi, 23 tribal leaders approached the Americans and offered to fight the extremists by forming "provincial security battalions," neighborhood police auxiliaries, and by sending volunteers to the Iraqi Army and police. Across Anbar, the 3,500 policemen in October jumped to 21,500 by June. In Ramadi, where there were fewer than 100 policemen last year, there are now 3,500.
Many recruits, American officers acknowledge, were previously insurgents. "There's a lot of guys wearing blue shirts out there who were shooting at us last year," Colonel Charlton said. The trend has spread to other areas where American and Iraqi troops are fighting extremists, including the Sunni district of Amariya in Baghdad, where former insurgents have been given arms and ammunition to fight Al Qaeda-linked groups. Other areas are in Diyala Province, parts of the so-called Triangle of Death south of Baghdad in Babil Province, and parts of Salahuddin and Nineveh, provinces with large Sunni populations north of Baghdad.
In an interview last week, the overall American commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, described the eagerness of at least some Sunnis in each of the five provinces to fight against Sunni extremists as the "most significant" development in his five months as commander. "Local security is helped incalculably by local support and local involvement, and that's what's happened," he said....