Magazine article The American Conservative

Beyond Baghdad

Magazine article The American Conservative

Beyond Baghdad

Article excerpt

The surge isn't ending the insurgency but dispersing it.

MEET, IRAQ-From an Army colonel in Baghdad's International Zone to a private in a lonely combat outpost on the Euphrates River, I was told and retold that Anbar Province-birthplace of the Sunni insurgency and homeland of Saddam Hussein's most fervent supporters-was a success. According to secretary of Defense Robert Gates, "Anbar is a good news story." So I went in search of a light at the end of the tunnel.

"Three months ago, there was only one road in Heet that was somewhat secure," Warrant Officer James MaIiwauki explains. Today we drive everywhere." A major battle swept the insurgents out, and now American forces are engaged in a long-term struggle to keep them at bay. The veteran Marine tempers his optimism: "You never know what tomorrow brings."

Tomorrow took us half an hour outside of Heet, into the desert to the makeshift headquarters of a kind of unofficial neighborhood watch. The major industry appears to be grazing sheep by the Euphrates River. Maybe a little fishing. But with the economy not developing and the anti-government movement fading, former insurgents and their supporters are anxious to join the expanding police force-not least of all for a paycheck.

The most important security force for counterinsurgencies is not the army but the police. This is especially true in Sunni Anbar, where the Iraqi army, dominated by Shia, is viewed as a hated foreign army of occupation. Local Sunni police better understand the social and security realities. Closer to the people, their eyes and ears are in the neighborhoods.

"We're going to take everyone's photograph and fingerprints," says MaIiwauki, called "Gunner" by his Marines. He seems leery about the 230 recruits but is willing to register them in hope that a six-week training course will turn the motley band into legitimate policemen. Gunner clasps his hands, "Let's get started..."

"Sir!" a Marine interrupts from the doorway, "VBIED [Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device] just went off outside General Hamid's house and they want us there!"

This tomorrow brought horror.

"Need a casualty report," Gunner barks to Peter, his Iraqi translator. "Get the civilians out of here. Shurta [Iraqi policemen] on the perimeter. Officers over here, now."

Across the street, a row of buildings has collapsed. Part of a vehicle hangs from a roof, something strange and nasty dripping down. A man rushes past holding a motionless baby. On the other side of the road, in front of the general's house, half a dozen vehicles are heavily damaged. Everywhere people are wailing, dazed. An elderly woman simply stares. On a scorched and slightly depressed patch of the road lie a truck engine, broken axle, and twisted chassis -remnants of the bomber's craft.

A man with desperate eyes approaches and pleads for me to follow him. Inside a house, sobbing women sit on the floor forming a circle. The corpse's eyes are locked open. Her husband rubs her arm, refusing to see she is dead.

Peter tells Gunner, "I'm hearing on the radio it's 3 KIA and 2 WIA." A bolt of lightning rips the sky.

"These Shurta standing here doing nothing, I want them over there searching for casualities." Gunner points to the row of demolished buildings.

A young man wails, flapping his arms up and down. A young girl sits in a mud puddle, her brown eyes imploring.

"Sir, they're saying 10 KIA."

"Wounded?"

"Nothing on that yet There is a report of a second VBIED in the area"

Gunner yells to his staff sergeant, "We need to tighten the perimeter. …

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