Ramadi struggles to instill a rule of law
Attacks rise, but a new $21 million court has failed to convict any major suspects in six months. US Marines frustrated by shrinking role in key Iraqi city
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At the security meeting this week, Marine officers reminded their Iraqi counterparts that US forces were available to help with intelligence and surveillance, biometrics to identify suspects, and defusing explosives.
The security agreement, which requires the Marines to give the Iraqis 72 hours notice to move outside their base and then only with Iraqi escorts, has left part of the battalion with so little to do that more than 500 Marines are being sent home early.
"Our main goal now is to help provide stability," says Cabell. With about 15,000 Marines left in the country, the entire US Marine Corps effort by next spring will have been diverted from Iraq to Afghanistan. Most of the Marines are now based west of Ramadi, where foreign fighters have traditionally infiltrated from Syria and where AQI set up supply routes and safe houses.
Throughout Iraq, although the Iraqi Army is seen as mostly reliable, the police forces that maintain primary control of security in most major cities remain a source of concern.
A thin blue line
Ramadi, part of Iraq's Sunni triangle, was an AQI stronghold and the scene of some of the bloodiest attacks against US forces until tribal leaders turned against the insurgents in a movement called the Awakening. Many of the policemen here were tribesmen rather than trained police recruits.
The Ramadi police officials at the conference complained that they didn't have enough gasoline or spare parts for police cars and described a system ruled by corruption as well as their frustration with a criminal justice system that lets suspects go free.
Maj. John Badame, the battalion's operating officer from Aliso Viejo, California, who has bonded with his Iraqi counterparts as a trainer, was candid with them: [Editor's note: An earlier version misstated Mr. Badame's title.]
"Share the wealth as much as possible," he told the group. "You are survivors. You made it here through a lot of bad times. Stop skimming off the fuel, food, and other funds."
Asked about Badame's comments, one of the Iraqi police chiefs explained that in the absence of a system to repair police cars or pay for gasoline, the only alternative was to divert money or demand that police officers chip in.
Despite fears that AQI is regrouping here, Cabell says he believes they would not be able to put down roots again because their recruitment base has dried up.
Attack trends in Ramadi are down from levels a year ago, but US officials describe attacks in July as a protracted offensive by insurgents. The frequency and sophistication of car bomb attacks in particular has sparked concern by US and Iraqi officials that insurgents are reemerging to test the ability of Iraqi security forces now working largely alone.
"We won a battle but we didn't win the war. We know we are still fighting them," said Col. Salih Mehdi Shaheen, the district chief of police. "They're still targeting the civilians and we know they'll do more than that until the elections [in January]."
"We know this war isn't done yet. Somebody is going to have to finish this and that's going to have to be the Iraqis," says Merritt.