Here is the latest update from my Marine cousin, Major Jim. I was planning on posting it today. After reading Lt. Col. Patrick's blog, Jim's letter was confirmed. Good things are happening in Iraq - progress is being made.
Back in October 2006, on my very first day here in Ramadi, I conducted a dismounted patrol with some Iraqi soldiers and some US soldiers from the transition team that my team replaced. The patrol started at 0830 in the morning. There were no people on the streets and we moved quickly across intersections and did not stay on the streets more than 2-3 minutes before moving into a building or a courtyard. During the pre-patrol brief we were advised that the sniper threat had been increasing recently...exactly what you want to hear when starting a daytime patrol! The Iraqi Army patrol leader took us to a small municipal complex that included a small children’s clinic and the old Iraqi police station. The clinic was closed and there was no sign of Iraqi police at the station. Our inspection of the clinic revealed that many of the supplies were missing – apparently taken by insurgents to treat their wounded. The Iraqi police station was completely rubbled from months of insurgent attacks.
Out patrol moved by the municipal area and continued on an adjacent street when suddenly sniper rounds snapped over our heads. I found myself almost frozen...not because of fear but because I simply could not believe that 30 minutes into my very first patrol in Ramadi I was getting shot at. I looked at my counterpart and said, “Wow, it’s going to be a long year.” Three hours after that patrol the Iraqi outpost I had started that morning patrol from was attacked by a suicide vehicle bomb and soon after I found myself in a three hour firefight as insurgents used the vehicle bomb to initiate an attack. At that point I wasn’t worried about the rest of the year any more...I was pretty much focused on the rest of the day!!!
When my team arrived here in October insurgents had freedom of movement in our area and they attacked us at will throughout our area of operations. There were no friendly sheiks or tribes and there were no Iraqi police stations or police. Our convoys were attacked daily, our bases were mortared daily and we could not conduct patrols during the day without guaranteed attacks from some very skilled insurgent snipers. Civilians would not talk to us - those who did were often tortured or killed by insurgents. Within my first 30 days here, the Iraqi Army battalion I am advising had over 30 casualties, including 5 killed. The Ma’Laab district of Ramadi was a dangerous place with little hope and even less security.
It is now springtime here in Ramadi and appropriately enough, things are looking up. After six months of some tough combat operations, fighting to get to know the people and search for local leaders, we now control our area. My Iraqi Army battalion runs close to 30 patrols a day, ten of them partnered with Iraqi police. There are close to 10 large civil affairs projects including sewage repair, rubble removal, school clean up, street repair and work on the electric grid. All of these projects are providing jobs for local Iraqis. Food convoys, unheard of for the last six months because of poor security, now come in every couple of days. The civilians have restarted their soccer league and our efforts to enforce the curfew usually end up getting kids off the streets from their nightly volleyball games.
We now have dozens of friendly sheiks and tribes. Tomorrow we will hold district council elections in the Ma’Laab district. My Iraqi Army battalion now has its own battlespace and continues to prove its ability to conduct independent operations. Colonel Ali, my advisee, was recently praised by the mayor of Ramadi for his efforts at building security and starting the reconstruction effort in his area. Just today one of the city council members invited me to his house for dinner. People now dare to hope things will return to normal. I cannot speak for all of Ramadi, and certainly not for the entire country, but in the Ma’Laab district of Ramadi, we’re winning...actually, the Iraqi people are winning and it’s exciting to be a part of.
Back to that clinic from my first patrol back in October: I visited that clinic again today and it was packed. I counted close to 20 women and probably 30-40 small children and infants coming and going. The supplies in the clinic were sent there by the Iraqi Ministry of Health on a convoy provided by the Iraqi Army and Colonel Ali. That police station is still in ruins, but that’s o.k. There’s a new police station and 50 Iraqi police that are patrolling the streets. There are also close to 200 men who have signed up to join the police force and we’ll start training them next week. The best part is, I walked freely around the area today. I waved at children and greeted a few men that I recognize from a nearby neighborhood...all that, and no sniper fire!