Can US sustain Anbar success?

While Al Qaeda in Iraq has been largely driven out of Ramadi, the US is hoping to build on the gains by fixing basic services and mediating tribal hostilities.

Col. John Charlton, commander of US forces in Ramadi, keeps a big white board in his office that lists a dizzying array of tasks. It's a catalog of jobs meant to rebuild the war-shattered capital of Anbar Province.

The list stretches through October, and, on a visit to his office last week, not one item had been ticked off.

While the colonel from Spokane, Wash., says the American fight against Al Qaeda in the city is over, the hard work of maintaining that victory is now facing the US troops.

"The number one accomplishment," Colonel Charlton says, is that Coalition forces, the Iraqi police, and Iraqi Army have defeated Al Qaeda in Ramadi. "We have absolutely defeated them."

Indeed, the city that was once an Al Qaeda stronghold appears to be firmly in the hands of US and Iraqi forces. Only a few months ago, those forces could not even venture out without being attacked.

To sustain their success, US troops here have embarked on restoring basic services, maintaining some stability, and bringing hope to the war-weary citizens of Ramadi. Doing that hinges on easing a power struggle – and a rush to control resources and institutions – under way between a reemerging provincial authority and the same group of tribal leaders that helped the US in the fight against Al Qaeda.

It also depends on spreading the formula that has helped in Ramadi to other parts of the Sunni Arab province, especially the area around Fallujah, where the insurgency remains strong among the tribes there.

An Iraqi fight to control Ramadi

The newly assertive Anbar sheikhs – emboldened by their fight to drive Al Qaeda elements from the province – are eager to carve out a political role for themselves.

"The governor is a dictator. He's the source of all evil in the province," says the governor's deputy, Sheikh Moayad Ibrahim al-Humaishi, who is also a leading member of the Anbar Salvation Council, the collection of tribal leaders that rallied against Al Qaeda.

The governor, Mamoun Samir Rashid, belongs to the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the country's main Sunni political parties. He's also a member of the Bu-Alwan tribe, which traditionally has more influence inside the city. Now, for his protection, Mr. Rashid is driven from home to work by US marines.

The struggle among tribes for power in Ramadi – which threatens to undo much of the US success – can be seen being played out throughout the city.

At one of the many elaborate luncheons of lamb and rice that take place nearly every day to fete what Mr. Humaishi describes as the "legendary victories" of the tribesmen over Al Qaeda, tribal leaders gather to often rail against the injustices of rival Shiites who control the government.

"[Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki is helpless. He's a man that wants to make things happen but he's shackled by black-turbaned clerics in his government," proclaimed the leader of the Bu-Dhiab tribe, to which Humaishi belongs.

At another meeting of one of Ramadi's newly established district councils, shepherded by marines and designed to identify the immediate reconstruction needs of the city, sparks flew again when only seven of the 21 members showed up.

"I am going to fire them all," said Saad Hamed Albu-Alwani, a relative of the governor, accusing some members of his council who are loyal to the Salvation Council sheikhs of trying to subvert his authority.

Colonel Charlton admits there are problems. Now, he says, the US military acts as a moderator.

"We definitely play a referee function here sometimes because our interest is keeping all these groups in cooperation with each other and moving forward on continuing to secure Ramadi and the rebuilding effort."

But as the different parties bicker, needs remain unmet. Only seven police stations are open inside Ramadi. Most have heavy US Marine and Army presence.

The city's main market remains shuttered, and many buildings in the center are fully or partially destroyed. Sewerage water floods many streets, and heaps of garbage pile up at street corners. On a recent patrol of the city's Aziziyah neighborhood by Iraqi police and US Marines, youngsters were shoveling molding garbage that hadn't been picked up in six months onto a tractor. They are being paid $10 a day by the US military.

The population still sees the US side as the only credible authority.

Al Qaeda down, but not out

Many US and Iraqi officers say that many Al Qaeda members have regrouped farther north in the province around the Lake Thar-thar area and east in places like Al Karma, which borders Baghdad.

Al Qaeda did make its presence felt in Ramadi and surrounding areas last week with four car bombs targeting mainly the newly reconstituted police force. The deadliest attack was a suicide truck bomb against a police chief from the Bu-Nimr tribe that missed him but killed 25 of his kinsmen and wounded 40, according to a police officer. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack in an Internet statement.

Now the group, which also benefited from and controlled fuel deliveries to the province, issued last week death threats to tanker drivers not to take part in convoys put together by local authorities, according to a US military source.

Part 1 appeared in Thursday's Monitor.

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