I know the story has been floating around for a couple of weeks, but as media attention focuses on the security operations in and around Baghdad, I thought it would be worthwhile to remember theres a lot of activity going on to stabilize the Sunni-majority al Anbar province in western Iraq.
Ive spent a lot of time out there embedded with Marine and Army units over the past few years and its at least somewhat heartening for me to hear from a variety of sources that the Marines strategy of enlisting the local populace in the struggle against al Qaeda and the anti-government Sunni insurgency is starting to pay off.
According to Kim Kagans latest Iraq report, tribal chiefs and clan leaders are enlisting their members in greater numbers to join police and army units, pushing the influence of Sunni AQ out of the province.
In March 2006, al Qaeda controlled Ramadi and Anbar in the doctrinal sense. U.S. forces slowly spread through many of Ramadis neighborhoods through security stations and combat outposts. They cleared al Qaeda from the government center, which was its stronghold in Ramadi. In March 2007, al Qaeda no longer controlled Ramadi, and in fact, U.S. and Iraqi forces controlled many parts of the city in a doctrinal sense.
A critical mass of the civilian population in Ramadi supported counterinsurgency efforts. Ramadis tribal sheiks organized and led a movement, the Awakening, when they decided to expel al Qaeda from their city. They led their population not only to reject al Qaeda, but also actively to oppose the organization. They recruited thousands of Anbaris to join the Iraqi police, effectively increasing force presence in the city and throughout the Euphrates River Valley. Their efforts, combined with U.S. efforts, spread the al Qaeda opposition movement from Ramadi, the capital city, into other cities in the provinces.
And in case you want to just dismiss the report thinking Kim is simply a shill for the neocons on this, just consider her sourcing on the assessment, which includes the New York Times, LA Times and AP.
The Marine strategy was starting to work in late 2005, when operation Steel Curtain was launched in response to AQ harassment of a western tribe that controlled the smuggling routes from Syria. That sentiment gradually made its way down the Euphrates River valley, ending up in the provincial capitol of Ramadi, where Marines and their local tribal allies have wrested back control.
Now I realize that as Gen. Barry McCaffrey remarked to senators yesterday: the American people have walked away from this war and they are not coming back, but still, the Marines who control al Anbar deserve credit for their counterinsurgency strategy.
Counterinsurgency operations in Anbar helped reintegrate the cities of the province. Poor security, including insurgents control of the Euphrates River and the roads, isolated Anbars cities from Ramadi in 2006.
As U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces secured the river, Ramadi, and the other cities of the river valley, smaller towns and villages were able to contribute to police recruiting drives and improve security in outlying areas. Linking the cities within the province is a necessary prerequisite for ensuring that the provincial government can govern and assist the entire province. Prime Minister Malikis visit was a symbolic and practical first step toward establishing a working relationship between the provincial government in Anbar Province and the central government in Baghdad.
Its been a long, painful road (as I know from very personal experience), but even if America leaves Iraq with its tail between its legs, at least the Marines stuck to their plan...and it seems to be the only one thats really paid any dividends.