Americans had grown to know Ramadi from stories of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) ripping through unarmored Humvees, or Marine patrols being attacked only a few dozen yards outside outposts with names like Snake Pit. In August 2006, the month that Colonel Devlin completed his report, 33 Marines and Soldiers were killed in action in and around Ramadi. The successes and euphoria enjoyed by the politicians and the American people in the afterglow of the quick and successful March 2003 invasion had long since been replaced by the growing killed-in-action reports from the daily fighting in Ramadi, Fallujah, and other cities in al Anbar Province.
As the casualty count mounted, the situation grew worse, and in November the Post followed up with another article, by Ricks and Dafna Linzer, which said the Devlin report had been updated to say:
"The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter al-Qaeda's rising popularity there. . . ." The story went on to quote a senior U.S. intelligence official as saying that, as of mid-November, "the problems in troubled Anbar province have not improved."
But unknown to few outside of al Anbar, the situation on the ground was already changing. Although the improvements would not become apparent until April-May 2007, by early September 2007, only ten months after the Post 's despairing report, the Ramadi City Council sponsored a 5-K race that attracted some 120 competitors and live television coverage from Baghdad. Currently salaries have increased almost 40 percent due to the recent construction boom; Ramadi's mayor, Latif Obaid, with a full year in office, has sponsored three well-attended business development councils; and in January 2008 the Marines approved patrolling without wearing flak jackets and Kevlar helmets.
This is a turn-around of historic proportions.
Soldier, Marine, Sheikh
The peace and prosperity enjoyed in Ramadi today was earned primarily by the leadership and initiative shown in the 2006-2007 time period by three men: Colonel Sean MacFarland of the Army's 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Armored Division, known as "The Ready First," Lieutenant Colonel William Jurney of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines (1/6), and Sheikh Sattar Abdul Abu Risha and his Sons of Anbar, the first organized group of Iraqis to turn on AQI.
In 2006, the Army was fighting to control the Shia areas in Iraq, and the Marine Corps was given responsibility for al Anbar province. Major General (now Lieutenant General) Richard Zilmer arrived in June to take command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) (Fwd) and began to develop the strategy to secure Ramadi.
"Ramadi was the missing key to Anbar province," Zilmer said in a January 2008 interview with Proceedings , "but we needed to stabilize the security situation first."
But Ramadi needed more than security if it were to again be thought of as viable city. There were no basic services. Two years of constant IED blasts, 70-ton M1 Abrams tanks barreling through the streets, and Marine counterattacks had left the city devastated. Raw sewage ran down the streets from shattered pipes. There was little-to-no city-supplied electrical power. Shops and other businesses had long ceased to open, and the school system had collapsed. Those citizens who had not fled the city huddled in their homes as Marines and insurgents fought through the streets day and night.
With General Zilmer responsible for all of al Anbar province, responsibility for gaining control of Ramadi fell to Colonel MacFarland of the "Ready First" as it assumed area responsibility in early June 2006.
The situation was grim; the Army had control of the outskirts of the city through its "bookend" camps to the west and east (Camp Ramadi and Camp Corregidor). A tank company operated in the southern part of Ramadi, and the 3d Battalion, 8th Marines (3/8) under Lieutenant Colonel Steven Neary were based at Camp Hurricane Point, in the far western end of the city. Neary had established three tenuous outposts within the city limits; one at the Government Center, another in the Iraqi veterans affairs building known as OP VA, and the third, OP Hawk, close to the Government Center.
"2006 needed to be the Year of the Iraqi Police (IP)," Zilmer said. "We needed to build up their army and police so that governance could follow." But for this to occur, the local Iraqis had to be convinced that the Americans would stay and fight—just as the Americans needed to be convinced that the Iraqis would stand and fight with them.
Enter Sheikh Sattar Abdul Abu Risha.
Shortly after the "Ready First" arrived in June 2006, Lieutenant Colonel Tony Deane, commander of Task Force 1-35 Armor, approached Sattar to recruit his tribesmen to the police force.
To accomplish this, Colonel MacFarland's deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Lechner, and his Police Implementation Officer, Marine Major Teddy Gates, decided to change the location for IP recruiting. They wanted a more secure location close to Sattar's house, as this would enable them to build a police station north of the Euphrates River in an area where many potential recruits lived.
Having already had his father and three brothers killed by AQI, Sattar liked the idea, and the Iraqi response was overwhelming at the next week's recruiting drive. Sattar promised even more recruits for August—and with AQI's help, he delivered.
In August, the new Jazeera police station north of the river, manned mostly by Abu Ali Jassim tribe members, was attacked and the sheikh of the tribe killed. AQI then hid the sheikh's body so it was not found for several days, a gross violation of Islam's strict burial rules that call for interment within 24 hours.
The attack on the station killed several Iraqi police and also caused a number of burn casualties. MacFarland offered the police evacuation to Camp Blue Diamond, an American Army camp outside of Ramadi, while they repaired the station, but the Iraqis refused to abandon their post. Instead, in a scene reminiscent of Iwo Jima, they put their flag back up, and began patrolling again that same day.
With the locals outraged by AQI's disregard of Islamic funeral laws, the charismatic Sheikh Sattar stepped forward to continue the push toward working with the Americans. He began as the spokesman for what is now known as the Anbar Awakening movement, and soon became the leader. McFarland attended the meeting when the sheikhs officially began the Awakening, and the next week he and they agreed to a list of principles and requirements.
McFarland later said, "I told them that I now knew what it was like to be in Independence Hall on 4 July 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed."
Keeping Pressure on AQI
Three weeks later, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines (1/6) relieved 3/8. Its mission: "Provide security and stability for Ramadi, working with and through the Iraqi Army (IA)."
The battalion moved into the camp on the western end of Ramadi known as Hurricane Point and immediately began to plan its advance into the city. "We were told to expand our permanent presence with the Iraqi Security Forces" (ISF), said Lieutenant Colonel Jurney, the CO, "and so we began conducting some pretty serious offensive ops within the first 30 days."
Initially Jurney and 1/6 were on their own in West Ramadi, although they had theoretical support from an Iraqi Army battalion that in reality was not able to fight. Jurney saw the need to fight aggressively, and he pushed his companies out into the city quickly.
"I tried to give my battalion commanders a clear intent for their role in the Brigade's fight, provide them with the resources they need to execute, and let them fight their fight as they see it," explained MacFarland.
Jurney quickly dispatched his companies into the city. Alpha Company under Captain Stephen Sloan took over OP VA. Captain Jason Arthaud, Bravo Company, pushed out to the Government Center, and Charlie Company, Captain Jody White, ran OP Hawk. Captain Todd Mahar's Weapons Company escorted convoys around the city, conducted mobile patrols, and provided the heavy Quick Reaction Force presence.
Additionally, MacFarland provided Navy SEALS and Seabees, Army scouts, civil affairs, and PSYOPS teams, UAVs, engineers, artillery, and attack helicopters as needed. He also stationed a tank platoon at Hurricane Point to support the Marines. Based on reports from his field commanders, the colonel adjusted his forces to maintain maximum pressure on the enemy at all times.
"We pushed our Marines into the most heavily contested areas," said Jurney, the 1/6 battalion commander, "where AQI ruled primarily by murder and intimidation."
Jurney ordered regular patrolling, enhancing security street-by-street. His Marines also supplied generators, other equipment, medical assistance, and a variety of services that elevated living conditions for Ramadi's citizens.
Knocking unbidden on the doors of residents after midnight, a practice known as "night calls," resulted in intelligence about the workings of the neighborhood that had the collateral benefit of helping the Marines distinguish between friend and foe. Captain Sloan's troops would depart OP VA through the twisted wires, trash, and IED craters to knock on doors at 0100 or later. If not fighting, Second Lieutenant Micah Steinpfad would drink chai with the head of the household as he inquired about family, schooling, employment (or lack of), and other demographic questions so Marines could build a database of local knowledge for each street.
Simultaneously, the company corpsman, Chris "Doc" Anderson, would be treating children who needed basic medical aid. Returning to base at about 0400, the teams would often hear gunfire and IED blasts from other sections of the city where Marine patrols were engaged in nocturnal firefights.
Lieutenant Colonel Jurney took the concept of ?clear-hold-build' and refined it: he believed all three activities needed to be conducted concurrently. There were kinetic and non-kinetic operations done simultaneously, but in different parts of the city, and to different degrees.
Part of the non-kinetic operations was Voice of Ramadi, a radio broadcast to the citizens via huge loudspeakers from the top of the Government Center, and other newly established strong points. The brainchild of Major Tiley Nunnick, the Information Officer, the goal was to communicate news and events to the local population.
"Your brave Iraqi Police stopped a suicide bomber this morning" the citizens were told, or "750 more of your loyal Sons of Anbar have signed up as Iraqi Police in order to protect their homes and families. . . ."
Voice of Ramadi broadcast at set times each day, like the prayers chanted from the mosques. Led by Majors Nunnick and Daniel Zappa, Lieutenant Colonel Jurney's executive officer, 1/6 formed a working group that developed these culturally effective messages. In an unusual move, Jurney and Zappa installed their lead interpreter as a special adviser, his knowledge and familiarity with the local culture and religion playing a big part in the communications operation.
In addition, the district police chiefs, Mayor Latif, and Anbar's governor, Ma-moun Sami Rashid al Alwani, all took part in bringing public service messages and updates to the people. Their messages had to do with security and improving critical services as redevelopment projects got underway.
As the Marines struggled to win the battle in the streets, Jurney and MacFarland fought to prevail on a governmental and tribal level. Governor Ma-moun shuttled between his office at the Government Center and the Ministry of the Interior in Baghdad pleading for funds to pay the police and other city workers. His knowledge of the local political scene proved invaluable to the Marines of 1/6; one day he brought Jurney a list of 120 names of Sunnis volunteering to join the police force—all of whom withstood a security check.
Jurney and MacFarland also worked with Sheikh Sattar in planning each new outpost. They would build one in a day, then assign both Marines and Iraqis troops to operate from it. After the surrounding area was secured, they would construct another one several hundred yards away.
While the Marines of 3/8 had labored mightily to train the Iraqi Army battalion prior to the arrival of 1/6, it finally achieved acceptable combat readiness when Jurney and McFarland started co-locating Marines and Iraqi units. Previously, the IA rotated companies in and out of the fight for leave, but this was changed to platoon rotations so that companies could permanently partner with the Marines and own the same battlespace.
MacFarland and his civil affairs officer, Captain Travis Patriquin, met regularly with Sheikh Sattar, and the relationship developed into an essential ingredient in successfully engaging the locals.
Patriquin was a former Special Forces officer who spoke passable Arabic. Smart and highly personable, he accompanied McFarland to his meetings with Sattar. He became personally close to the sheikh and his family, who soon "adopted" him, and gave him the honorary tribal name Hisham Abu Resha (Patrick of Abu Resha). When Patriquin learned of medical problems or other local needs, he told MacFarland's staff, which quickly responded, further improving relations.
MacFarland, Patriquin, and Sheikh Sattar huddled regularly to discuss ways to persuade tribesmen to join the Iraqi security forces, to induce more tribes into the Awakening movement, to bring a functional government back to Ramadi, and to rebuild the city. "It was a partnership built on mutual respect" said MacFarland "and neither of us (he or Patriquin) ever made a commitment that we did not honor"
"Patriquin was one more very good reason for the sheikhs to trust us," McFarland explained.
The captain's death from an IED blast in December 2006 was a huge blow to the sheikhs, who turned out in force for his memorial service and often became teary-eyed when speaking of him afterward. They named a police station in his honor.
But at this point Jurney's Marines were still going door-to-door, providing the muscle that gave Sattar the "face" he needed when talking with the other sheiks. The fighting inside the city remained ferocious; on this author's first night at Hurricane Point, in October 20006, four Marines at OP Hawk were killed when their humvee was IED'd, and a month later Doc Anderson and Captain Patriquin were lost. The Marine KIA and WIA toll continued to mount.
Seizing the Security Station
The first major Marine offensive was seizing the 17th Street Security Station, which they did in mid-October. Taking control of this three-story building signaled both the locals and AQI that the Marines were serious about reclaiming the city. Sloan's Alpha Company Marines were moved from OP VA into the security station, and it became the first joint Marine-Iraqi outpost in the city.
Meanwhile, AQI's campaign of terror had not abated. Beheadings of adults and teens continued. Smokers had their fingers cut off.
Now, though, Marines, Iraqi Army troops, and police were patrolling together three times a day. They went street-by-street, knocking on doors, meeting the residents, opening two schools, fighting if necessary. The continuous on-the-ground presence of the Marines gave the locals the courage to stand up to AQI.
The break came when the Abu Alwani tribe "flipped," meaning they switched their loyalties and began working with the Marines. The tribe lived in West Ramadi, where Jurney's Marines first began patrolling,and were convinced by Governor Ma-moun, a fellow Alwani tribesman, to build a police station in their section of the city.
The station was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Salaam al-Dalaimi, a dynamic Iraqi officer who aggressively began clearing AQI out of the area. But AQI went after him equally aggressively, murdering him in his home using a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBID). His deputy, however, quickly stepped up and followed Salaam's lead. The West Ramadi police station became even more active in working with the Marines to rid their part of the city of AQI. Salaam became a police hero, a martyr, and his picture still adorns every police building in the city today.
The Marine-Army-Tribal alliance was successful: The Abu Alwanis flipped because the governor and Sattar convinced them to do so—and was himself convinced by MacFarland, Patriquin, and the courage of Jurney's Marines.
City Coming Back to Life
In January 2007, Governor Ma-moun appointed a mayor, Latif Obaid. Protected by Jurney's Marines, Mayor Latif vigorously and visibly promoted stability, and began appointing fellow businessmen to an increasingly active City Council. Working with civil affairs Marine Major Scott Kish and Gunnery Sergeant Matthew Knight, the mayor also pressed for the repair of sewage pipes, the resumption of trash collection, the removal of burned-out cars from the streets, and other basic services—and he did it by hiring the locals and paying them in cash. These were the first jobs available in Ramadi since 2004, and were much sought-after.
The improved security situation enabled Latif and the Americans to rebuild and improve other municipal services; electricity reached more parts of the city for more hours each day, houses and neighborhoods had clean water, and the oddly named Route Michigan, the main road through the city, had the concrete blast barriers removed as traffic volume increased to pre-war levels.
While Jurney's Marines were extended for three months, MacFarland and the "Ready First" returned to Germany. Colonel John Charlton and the Army's 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, replaced them in February 2007. Charlton continued MacFarland and Jurney's tactics. With Jurney's Marines continuing to clear street-by-street, Charlton's troops assisted by manning the newly opened joint security stations where Americans and Iraqis lived and worked side by side.
As the violence of winter 2007 eased, and spring and summer arrived, the combined concept of security = jobs = more security = more jobs took hold and the locals joined the Iraqi police by the thousands to continue to drive out AQI. Gunny Knight's initial clean-up program grew as the locals, with Marine and Army managerial assistance, rebuilt the streets, the buildings, and reopened the hundreds of small businesses and markets that are the hallmarks of a prosperous city.
Even the September 13 assassination of Sheikh Sattar did not break the momentum towards stability and peace. Shortly after Sattar was photographed at al Asad Airbase with President George W. Bush, AQI suicide bombers attacked him at his home during the opening days of Ramadan, killing him and his guards. But his brother, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, promptly took charge of the Anbar Awakening Movement. Unusual in the Middle East, where loyalty normally goes to the man and not the institution, Sheikh Ahmed was successful in maintaining Ramadi's charge toward reconstruction and governance.
As of 15 February 2008, with police intelligence becoming more effective daily, Ramadi has not had a gun fired in anger in 262 days, and the few IED incidents that occur do so outside the city.
The city of Ramadi today is a work in progress in a country undergoing a transition from a government-managed petroleum dictatorship to a free-market democracy. Thanks to Jurney, MacFarland, and the late Sheikh Sattar, Ramadi's citizens, 99 percent of them Sunni, finally understand that their survival depends on banding together against AQI and their historic Shia enemies. These three men built the base that enabled Charlton and Latif to continue reconstruction efforts—all of which gave the citizens of Ramadi the courage, and the opportunity—to stand up for themselves.
The Captain Ali 5-K Race: A Symbol of Rebirth
Until mid-2007, Ramadi was one of the deadliest cities in Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had conducted a reign of terror that intimidated the locals through mass beheadings, extortion, and random killings. The Marines, in tandem with Iraqis who had turned against the terrorists, fought back. They reclaimed the city in fierce street-by-street battles that drove out AQI and bolstered the courage of local citizens, who responded by volunteering by the thousands to join the municipal police force.
As peace took hold and the prosperity brought on by a rebuilding boom grew, Ramadi's Mayor Latif Obaid and the City Council looked for a way to celebrate their newfound security and sense of community. They decided to reinstitute their annual 5-K race, traditionally run through the streets of the city. The race had last been conducted in May 2002, a year before the U.S.-led invasion, which would make it a fitting symbol of the city's rebirth.
Captain Jamel Khalif Ali was an Iraqi police officer killed trying to halt a suicide bomber who had targeted the police station he commanded. In an affront to Islam, AQI attacked the townspeople at his funeral the following day; an act that spurred hundreds of his fellow tribesman and townspeople to join the police.
"Who better to honor than him?" said Mayor Latif in announcing the resumption of the race and the decision to name it after the heroic fallen officer.
On 6 September 2007, 120 Iraqi men and boys took their marks for the start of The Captain Ali 5-K Race. The contest started at the Glass Factory on Ramadi's western end with a shot from Mayor Latif's flare gun. Police officer Ahmed Rashid moved quickly to the front, separating himself from his fellow runners.
After crossing the Euphrates River, the runners passed the Marine base called Hurricane Point before turning down Route Michigan, Ramadi's main highway. Only months before, Marine convoys were routinely IED'd here, but today the road was adorned with race banners and Iraqi flags.
Rashid never lost his lead and won in a time of 16:17. Mohammed Abbas, another police officer, wore his heavy pistol throughout the race, but still took third in 17:53. "I remember Captain Ali's funeral," said Officer Abbas, not yet ready to take the security for granted.
The Iraqi police provided three water stations, traffic control, and, with the Marines, race-day security. Several hundred men, women, and children cheered from the sidelines as the runners pushed down Route Michigan.
The race ended near the newly rebuilt Government Center. Anbar's Governor Ma-moun Sami Rashid Al Alwani and Mayor Latif handed out awards at the finish line, and the Ramadi police band played. Three TV stations traveled from Baghdad to cover the race.