U.S. forces to hand over hard-won Anbar Province

The Americans are set to transfer control of the once-restive Sunni province to Iraq, but many in Anbar question just how much real power the US is willing to relinquish.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

  • close
    Different scene: A Fullujah resident rode last week near a bridge where in 2004 the bodies of slain Blackwater contractors had hung.
    View Caption
  • close
    Back in business: Muhammad Hussein (r.) attends to customers at his kabob restaurant, a Fallujah landmark. Mr. Hussein laments the US military cooperating with people he says lack experience and integrity.
    View Caption
1 of 2

This is a city literally rising from the ashes. While reminders of two major US assaults here in April and November 2004 are inescapable, signs of rebirth are plenty. Men in jumpsuits busily work on construction sites, sewers are being installed, and a hospital is nearly completed.

Now, the US military is poised to return to Iraq control of this city and the rest of Anbar Province, once a haven for Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) fighters. In the past two years, a strategy of turning tribal leaders against AQI worked and led to a significant turnabout for the Americans.

But the danger, however, is not completely gone. On Thursday, an AQI-linked suicide bomber killed at least 20 people, including three US Marines, in the Anbar town of Garmah. And on the streets of Fallujah, doubts remain among both average Iraqis and some local officials about whether the US is really prepared to see Iraqis control Anbar.

Recommended: Top 3 reasons why Al Qaeda is more dangerous than ever

A handover ceremony was supposed to have taken place Saturday in Anbar's provincial capital, Ramadi. It was postponed because high winds and dust storms would have prevented top US and Iraqi officials from flying in from Baghdad, 70 miles away. The US military said Thursday's bombing did not cause the delay.

That attack was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq, an Al Qaeda-linked group, in a purported statement posted on the Internet. It said the victims, which included several tribal leaders and officials including Kamal al-Halbousi, a member of the Anbar provincial council, "sold their souls to the American devil for a cheap price."

Indeed, the strike on Garmah and others in Baghdad and the Sunni strongholds of Diyala and Nineveh provinces over the past week underscore the fragility of the situation and raise questions concerning the readiness of Iraqis to assume more security duties, particularly in places like Anbar, Diyala, and Nineveh, long associated with the Sunni Arab insurgency. The Garmah bomber was reportedly dressed as an Iraqi police commando.

The US has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on reconstruction in Anbar and on training, equipping, and funding local forces, including the tribal militias, who make up the anti-AQI forces known as the Awakening. In some instances, the American money has been used to buy the allegiances of powerful tribal sheikhs.

But Anbar remains as it has always been: fiercely clannish, nationalistic, and conservative. It's a place that is hostile to outsiders, be they Americans or foreign fighters. The American money spent here also does not appear to have helped much in reconciling this vast western province with Iraq's Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

What's more, bitter internal rivalries are simmering. And power struggles between the newly empowered tribal chieftains and political parties, such as the Islamic Party, risk becoming more violent, particularly in the run-up to provincial elections tentatively scheduled for October.

The Islamic Party's Fallujah headquarters were rigged with five bombs earlier this month that blew off the roof.

"The situation is bad. Al Qaeda is waiting for any breach. We also do not know what America wants: will it hand us more powers or does it want to stay longer under the guise of something or another," says Muhammad Yassin, a local party official, standing in the midst of the remaining wreckage.

The handover of security basically means that Iraqis are supposed to be in the lead when it comes to planning and executing security operations. Iraqi troops will continue to be backed by US forces. The process has already taken place in nine of Iraq's 18 provinces.

Another handover was scheduled to take place Monday in the mainly Shiite
province of Qadisiyah, south of Baghdad, but the ceremony was cancelled due
to weather.

But here, even some of the local officials working closest with the Americans see the handover as mainly ceremonial.

"The handover is without substance, the true handover happens when they leave Iraq," says Sheikh Hamid al-Zobaie, a member of Fallujah's city council who hails from one of eastern Anbar's most prominent tribes.

"It is occupation pure and simple … and the government in Baghdad is sectarian. It does not represent us," says another council official, Khalid Abdullah.

The current number of US troops in Iraq stands at about 146,000, of which roughly 35,000 serve in Anbar. This is expected to dip to around 142,000 by mid-July as some of the units sent during the surge in early 2007 including two Anbar-based Marine battalions, numbering about 1,500, return home. The US military is scheduled to hand over to the Iraqis Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi, the site of a palatial complex built by Saddam Hussein, but will retain other bases in Anbar like Camp Fallujah and the sprawling desert Al-Asad Airbase.

At the fortresslike entrance to Fallujah are signs that read "Keep Fallujah clean" and billboards that feature the photos of wanted militants. Masked policemen stand guard.

The US-backed police force here was created almost clandestinely in 2006. It is now headed by Col. Faisal Ismail al-Zobaie, an ex-insurgent, and maintains a tight grip on the city since it has been divided into nine gated sectors. While Fallujans speak with pride about their police, many bemoan its brutal tactics.

“People are more fearsome now of being arrested by the police than by the Americans,” says one resident who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Many allege the police are responsible for carrying out
summary executions of suspects. The police chief and his deputy declined to be interviewed for this article.

Inside the city, walls that were once awash with praise for the insurgency and Al Qaeda are now freshly painted with colorful scenes and slogans like: "Knowledge is light and ignorance is darkness."

At the popular Al-Yarmouk music shop the latest CD of Iraqi artist Hussam al-Rassam with a song praising the chivalry of Anbaris is selling fast. This would have been tantamount to heresy when the city was, until recently, in the grips of Al Qaeda militants, says owner Riad Nouri. "We were told to sell only Koran recitals, sermons, and chants," he says.

Hajji Hussein's kabob restaurant, a local landmark, is back in business after having been demolished in 2004. US Marines coolly patrol on foot under the gaze of residents.

Inside, customers speak about the emerging dynamic in Fallujah and what the transfer of control really means.

"I am very content," says Hussam Ibrahim. "The Americans are much better now, in the past if you drove anywhere near them they would riddle you with bullets."

His friend, Faisal Jamal, disagrees. "I just do not understand what they are still doing here. They need to leave," he says.

Everyone becomes visibly angry as another man, who gives his name as Abu Haitham, recounts how he allegedly witnessed a US soldier beat a Fallujah resident at the city entrance on Wednesday. The same incident is later recounted by a local official.

Muhammad Hussein, the owner of Hajji Hussein's, asserts that the US has wasted plenty of money by cooperating with "men of questionable abilities and integrity."

"With all the money they have spent so far, they could have built a second Fallujah with marble roads and skyscrapers like Dubai," he says.

Inside the local government building, US Marines accompanied by interpreters nip casually in and out of the office of Mr. Abdullah, the city council member. As they leave the room, he ticks off a litany of US-funded projects that have been plagued with corruption and duplicity of effort.

He says a recent project in Numaniyah on the edge of Fallujah should have cost $500,000 but the US military awarded it to a contractor for $2.5 million.

Entire streets in Fallujah have been ripped up again after being fixed with US money because they did not know that the council was planning to carry out sewerage works under the same streets with Iraqi government funds.

"There are a lot of contradictions in our work … the Americans are spending money just to please sheikhs and local officials," says Abdullah.

The conversation is interrupted as his cell phone and those of other officials seated in the room begin to ring one after the other with calls bearing the grim news from Garmah.

"Fallujah is not perfect. We are fully aware of that, but the gains and progress are such now that the Iraqis will very soon be able to manage it on their own," says Lt. Col. Chris Hughes, a spokesman for the US Marines, who are responsible for the city. He was unable to immediately comment on some of the issues raised by this article.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

eZ debug

Clear cache:

Quick settings:

Timing: Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Script start
Timing: Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Module start 'content'
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 158
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 175
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 158
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 175
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Timing: Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Module end 'content'
Timing: Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Before parse_includes
Strict: PHP: E_STRICT Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Non-static method MugoViewExtras::get_view_extras() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/mugo_view_extras/autoloads/template_operators.php on line 37
Warning: eZTemplate:def @ extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/extra/archive.tpl:21[1] Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
Variable 'view_extra_node' is already defined.
Timing: Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
After parse_includes
Timing: Jul 09 2014 15:26:37
End

Timing points:

CheckpointElapsedRel. ElapsedMemoryRel. Memory
Script start 0.0000 sec0.0213 sec 1,285.6484 KB1,162.1250 KB
Module start 'content' 0.0213 sec2.4163 sec 2,447.7734 KB12,269.6250 KB
Module end 'content' 2.4376 sec0.0157 sec 14,717.3984 KB420.5078 KB
Before parse_includes 2.4534 sec0.0452 sec 15,137.9063 KB273.3125 KB
After parse_includes 2.4986 sec0.0011 sec 15,411.2188 KB-192.4844 KB
End 2.4996 sec  15,218.7344 KB 
Total runtime:2.5086 sec
Peak memory usage:21,275.5234 KB

Time accumulators:

 Accumulator Elapsed Percent Count Average
ini_load
Load cache0.0086 sec0.3423%360.0002 sec
Mysql Total
Mysqli_queries0.2014 sec8.0172%2500.0008 sec
Looping result0.0618 sec2.4614%2430.0003 sec
Template Total2.4471 sec 97.4% 8 0.3059 sec
Template load0.0083 sec0.3318%80.0010 sec
Template processing2.4385 sec97.0839%80.3048 sec
Template load and register function0.0003 sec0.0108%40.0001 sec
states
state_id_array0.0125 sec0.4971%190.0007 sec
state_identifier_array0.0140 sec0.5565%270.0005 sec
override
Cache load0.0092 sec0.3659%1610.0001 sec
eZ Find
Search0.1179 sec4.6954%10.1179 sec
Query build0.1080 sec4.2983%10.1080 sec
Class attribute list0.1005 sec4.0010%10.1005 sec
Engine time0.0084 sec0.3338%10.0084 sec
MoreLikeThis0.0000 sec0.0000%00.0000 sec
Sytem overhead
Fetch class attribute can translate value0.0033 sec0.1327%60.0006 sec
Fetch class attribute name0.0004 sec0.0141%140.0000 sec
XML
Image XML parsing0.0143 sec0.5696%60.0024 sec
class_abstraction
Instantiating content class attribute0.0002 sec0.0070%160.0000 sec
General
String conversion0.0000 sec0.0013%30.0000 sec
dbfile0.0103 sec0.4108%520.0002 sec
View Extra building0.0134 sec0.5344%40.0034 sec
Total script time:2.5117 sec

CSS/JS files loaded with "ezjscPacker" during request:

CacheTypePacklevelSourceFiles
01a980f93dc967c6e39d52a11ae2108b_1404899611_all.cssCSS3extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/normalize.css
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/html5b.css
design/standard/stylesheets/debug.css
extension/ezwt/design/standard/stylesheets/websitetoolbar.css
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/jquery-ui-1.10.3.custom.min.css
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/desktop.css
ede0a88fd146f1a095d27fb22227d0e5_1398846822.jsJS2extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/modernizr.js
extension/csm_base/design/standard/javascript/jquery-1.10.2.min.js
1650da1ba852ac5f9af81af07e8fa105_1404899611.jsJS2extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery-ui-1.10.4.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/json2.js
extension/csm_base/design/standard/javascript/jquery.cookie.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery.mobile.custom.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.arthole.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.sticky.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.csmstory.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.right_column.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.csmstory_editorspickdialog.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.sailthru_signup.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.jcarousel.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.history.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.mainNav.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.gallery.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.staffdialog.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jQuery.rollChildren.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/pubService_extended.js
extension/csm_base/design/standard/javascript/csm/csmNew.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery.quiz.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery.spectrumQuiz.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/global.js

Templates used to render the page:

UsageRequested templateTemplateTemplate loadedEditOverride
1node/view/full.tplfull/article.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/full/article.tplEdit templateOverride template
42content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/paragraph.tpl<No override>extension/ezwebin/design/ezwebin/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/paragraph.tplEdit templateOverride template
3content/datatype/view/ezimage.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezimage.tplEdit templateOverride template
2content/datatype/view/ezstring.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezstring.tplEdit templateOverride template
38content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/link.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/link.tplEdit templateOverride template
6content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/line.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/line.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezbyline.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezbyline.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezobjectrelationlist.tplcontent/datatype/view/story_images.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/story_images.tplEdit templateOverride template
2content/datatype/view/eztext.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/eztext.tplEdit templateOverride template
2content/datatype/view/ezstring.tplcontent/datatype/view/image_credit.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/image_credit.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tplcontent/datatype/view/story_info_box.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/story_info_box.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezmatrix.tplcontent/datatype/view/ezmatrix_article_related_external_links.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/ezmatrix_article_related_external_links.tplEdit templateOverride template
1pagelayout.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/pagelayout.tplEdit templateOverride template
1modules/mugo_view_extras/extra_cached.tpl<No override>extension/mugo_view_extras/design/standard/templates/modules/mugo_view_extras/extra_cached.tplEdit templateOverride template
1setup/debug_toolbar.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/setup/debug_toolbar.tplEdit templateOverride template
 Number of times templates used: 104
 Number of unique templates used: 16
 Time used to render template usage: 0.0008 secs