If you read the local paper that may or may not be skewed in one way or another, you may question yourself if you really know what is happening in Iraq. Are things getting better? I have done one tour in Afghanistan and three six month tours in Iraq as a US Marine.
Following a positive and successful tour in Afghanistan, I was deployed to Ramadi Iraq in 2004. Centrally located near the war torn Fallujah City, military bases in Ramadi were mortared, fired upon or attacked daily by suicide car bombs. My third day in country resulted in my first of many Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks on my Marines and my first wounded. Fighting was regular and local government conditions were still in the infant stages at best. The local Iraqi Police was corrupt and unorganized and the Iraq Army was still in their re- training phase of their growth from the harsh defeat during Operation Desert Storm. The city council did not exist nor was there any solid stable local leadership that served the people. Insurgent cells intimidated local populace were coordinated and complex which maximized their command structures in their favor to successfully attack the Coalition Forces. For the following 12 months, Coalition Forces would have a daily professional fight on their hands. The area was marginal at best.
Fast forward to 2007. Following a proper gradual fight against a counter insurgency, which would normally take 10 years according to doctrine, the timely surge and continuation of Marines in the area, successfully began to not only defeat the localized cells of insurgents but began in parallel, developing the local civilian and military efforts. Insurgents are not ignorant, they cannot afford to be. Many insurgent cell leaders bet to out wait the American forces in hope that the American people would tire of the campaign and demand US forces to be withdrawn, much like that of the Vietnam War. Insurgent cells cannot defeat Coalition Forces tactically head to head which is the major reason they prefer their weapon of choice the IED as it gives them an advantage against a superior force. Once insurgents realized this was not to be the issue as the 2007 surge was introduced and the American people supported the actual troops on the ground, Coalition Forces tactically witnessed the initial breakdown and eventual and continual failure of the insurgent command and control structure which catapulted American forces to continue to obtain the upper hand and gain momentum. This set the stage for my successful third deployment in Iraq.
In 2008, as my convoy approached Ramadi Iraq, if it was not for the boarding Euphrates River, I would not have recognized the city. A solid infrastructure had been born. Localized government, city councils established, local and Highway police were established and becoming more affective every day. The last mortar or suicide attack was well over a year ago and many sections that were under Coalition Forces control in 2007 had been relinquished to the Iraqi Army for their control. The same could be said for the northern sections of Iraq where I would spend the next seven months. Imagine that you do not have electricity, running water or safe food to eat, none the less have tyrants who want to kill you in your neighborhoods simply because you want something different. It was an eye opening experience when I was deployed to Afghanistan to see poverty in the worse fashion. To see hate towards innocent people and now I began to see those types of idealism beginning to disappear in Iraq. In my remote area, there was no law except for US Marines. As our deployment continued, we began an Iraqi Police station to begin the building and training process to fill our role once we departed and begin a transitional phase for the Iraqi ppeople. Unlike deployments of the past, we had hundreds of local citizen volunteers to become dependable professional policemen. This may seem typical now, but in the past, such acknowledgement would mean certain death to you or your family. However this deployment, not only where local citizens publicly volunteering but because the police station was just being established and not yet recognized, all of them volunteered to work for free. We equipped them with uniforms and food but no daily wages as of the time. When I asked why they are willing to work for free, one Iraqi said that he had to do something to make his country succeed and that he knew we would not let him fail after all we have already done so much for his people. This was astonishing to many of us that had done multiple tours in Iraq, because we would have greatly desired to find one individual with such attitude in the past. Now, we had dozens.
After establishing the law of the land for our area by locals, we continued to train them in not only police work but problem solving and public service. This quickly became infectionous and the economy in the area grew at the rapid rate especially as we begin to pay them as police officers once they were a recognized organization by the government. However, now too many people wanted to be policemen, but we wanted to capitalize on the growth momentum and positive turn which initially resulted from the previous year during the 2007 surge. We did this in many ways but a popular technique was to donate water treatment purification facilities to local tribes in the area. Then we screened water facility repairmen to fix and maintain the facilities then we established local store owners where there were none, basic road repairmen and through the occupations and eventually local city council boards, and government representatives in Baghdad for the area.
The general populace was tired of the insurgency and did the most important act that I witnessed in all of my deployments, they fought back. Not us, but them. Local citizens risked death threats to inform local Iraqi police of possible enemy cells in the area. Then with Coalition Force reinforcements, the police solved the areas issues and threats. Because of the safety net of the Coalition Forces, local citizens made a difference. That is when we knew we witnessed the turning point of the people and I had seen a new Iraq being born. Local Sheiks in the area tried to monopolize tribal leaders for economic gain. A similar tactic of the “old Iraq” governed under a dictator. Sheiks would demand that all policemen be hired from sheiks instead of having the best man for the job. This is where the Coalition forces successfully regulated the economics in the area which created positive competition. Furthermore, Coalition Forces inspired general contracts in the area to include dozens of new construction contracts for schools, sewers, hospitals and government offices. This allowed the local citizens to utilize their own talents and make a positive contribution to their city with the protection of American forces at hand which continually made the economy there become stronger. Fighting and actual combat was a simple task for Marine leadership in theater, however, very little was conducted because of the rapid growth of the well trained Iraqi Army and police forces that patrolled the area and kept law in their territory. Coalition Forces simply gave small rudder adjustments to insure success at this point. The Iraqi people did the rest.
It was not out of the ordinary for us to conduct combined medical
engagements where American surgeons would be stationed in secure areas
as local Iraqi citizens would seek desperately needed medical attention
for free. We routinely invited tribes to attend these events under our
protection and at the same time train Iraqi doctors to become
proficient towards the threats of the local diseases. Men, women,
children would attend by the hundreds. We would stay as long as it took
to attend to them all while at the same time ensuring a safe haven and
secure village as the local police would prevail once again.
As my deployment came to an end, after the short 7 months, we utilized the carbon copy playbook that all Coalition Forces are using in the area and applied it with success. Iraqi Army units were successfully taking charge of their areas of responsibility, local police departments were serving and protecting their regions and at the same time economic growth in the area and the Iraqi government became stronger and stronger. As of recent as August, 2008, the entire Al Anbar province has been relinquished back to the Iraqi people control, which Ramadi is a major part of. This was something that we never expected back in 2004 as forces on the ground. The Iraq of today is not the Iraq we documented during Operation Desert Storm, nor is it the Iraq that was once under a dictatorship and viewed on our TV sets. Today’s Iraq is very similar to another country when it began back in 1776.
Following the multiple deployment returns, I have repeatedly sat at dinners and at soccer games and gladly answered curious quizzers of Iraq’s current condition. What is really happening in Iraq? They ask, and repeatedly I see the astonished looks on their faces with the answers I give them, almost in disbelief. Why don’t we hear these facts? I have no reason to lie. In fact you will get the same answers as I have given if you ask any of the several thousand Marines that have participated in either campaign. Besides, what TV news reports and newspapers tell you, you don’t hear about new police stations being formed by volunteers, hundreds of new jobs being created, new elementary schools being opened or ordinary people cherishing the opportunity to have an ordinary life in Iraq. So do you really know what is happening in Iraq?