Saturday, July 5, 2008

Security responsibility in Anbar turned over to Iraqi forces

A little over a week ago, the United States handed over security control of Anbar, Iraq’s largest province, to Iraqi forces. Anbar is 10th of 18 provinces, and the first Sunni majority area to revert to Iraqi control.

The passing of the baton to the Iraqi’s went by with little fanfare in the media, but the event exemplifies just how much progress the United States continues to make in Iraq.

Anbar, a vast desert region in western Iraq, was once called, “ the bloodiest place on the planet.” The city of Fallujah was the sight of some of the fiercest fighting of the war and the provincial capital Ramadi was a focal point of Al-Qaeda power.

A Sept 12, 2006 MSNBC article asked the question, “Is Iraq’s Anbar Province a lost cause?” The article concluded that the United States would likely leave the province to it’s own devices.

“The top U.S. commander in Iraq said Tuesday there has been some military and economic progress in Anbar, but for the first time, it appears the U.S. military is preparing to concede a large piece of Iraq to the enemy and leave it entirely to the Iraqis to eventually sort it out.”

But while the media was lamenting that U.S. and Iraqi forces were incapable of defeating the insurgency in Al Anbar, they were preparing to do just that.

Working with a coalition of local Sunni sheiks led Abdul Sattar Baziya, a powerful tribal leader whose father was murdered by Al-Qaeda for cooperating with American forces, U.S. soldiers and Marines were already laying the groundwork for victory in the region.

“The brave sons of Anbar have awakened to the need to defend our country. With the help of your country we will defeat the terrorist here,” Sattar told Fox News correspondent Oliver North.

Sattar used his influence to recruit local residents into the Iraqi police force and army. They then began to establish police security stations in Al-Qaeda controlled neighborhoods manned by Iraqi Army units (which were predominantly Shia) and police forces (predominantly Sunni) along with a platoon of U.S. troops.

As coalition forces began to establish a presence in previously insurgency controlled areas, they were able to help local residents return to some sense of normalcy by reopening schools and repairing damaged infrastructure.

So while the prognosticators of doom trumpeted their defeatist stories in newspapers and on the airwaves across the United States, the soldiers and Marines, along with their Iraqi counterparts, were steadfastly pressing on towards victory.

By December 2007, U.S. soldiers could walk down the streets of Fallujah and Ramadi without flack jackets.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have replicated this model of cooperation in many other areas of Iraq, including Shia dominated areas.

The transfer of security responsibility does not indicate total victory, but it does represent a huge step forward. Rebuilding a country from the ground up takes time and effort. Many people forget that it took decades to rebuild Germany and Japan after WWII.

Despite what the naysayers may believe, the U.S. continues to make progress in Iraq and the fact that Iraqi forces have quietly assumed sovereign control over more than half the country illustrates this reality.

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