At the dining facility today, I got into a discussion -- over pumpkin pie, of course -- about the direction this "war" is now taking. "Things are much calmer here now," said one Marine. Good. I'm glad to hear that the violence in Anbar is finally settling down despite all the White House occupants' intentional or unintentional efforts to keep chaos in Iraq stirred up.
Another Marine answered, "I can see your point. But still. I would really hate to leave Iraq while the infrastructure is still in such poor condition." Me too. Just look at this place. Everything in Iraq is either old and shabby or pre-fab or concrete-bunker-style Mussolini Modern or cobbled together out of junk. There's not much in between. This place is a mess. Martha Stewart would definitely give it a pass.
"But what if the Iraq government and the US start using less money here but start using it more efficiently by putting our dollars into education, jobs, infrastructure etc. instead of emphasizing military solutions? Would that help?"
"I'm sure that it would," said Marine number 2. And this would probably be a fabulous policy direction for the United States to take. "But even though things have settled down here a lot in the last six months," number 2 continued, "security is still Iraq's first priority."
But the photo that I was looking at now was a huge photo of Anbar province on the wall of Marine colonel Stacy Clardy's office. "What do YOU think is going on in Anbar province?" I asked. He told me.
"The mission we were tasked to do here revolves around support, security and stability. And to do this, we have recognized that the population is the center of gravity regarding successful completion of our mission. We put a considerable amount of effort toward the population here -- economic development, government, communications, rule of law. But you must understand that Iraqi systems here are much different from the ones we are used to and it's been hard work for us to get a handle on them. They are different from American paradigms. But we are making huge strides forward as we begin to understand more."
One of the Marines at the dining facility told me earlier that the Marine Corps had been sent to Anbar province at the start of the war because Baghdad was the "focus of effort" and Al Anbar was only supposed to represent "an economy-of-force". Maybe Bush and Cheney thought the Marines would be too efficient and muck all their "Disaster Capitalism" schemes up? But I digress. But you KNOW how much I love to diss Cheney and Bush.... Give me a minute here while I fight back the urge.
Anyway, the Marines fooled everybody and got Al Anbar province jump-started again and now everyone is all running around blathering, "The Anbar Model! The Anbar Model!" Semper fi!
"We have been working with municipal officials, tribal leaders, judges, police, etc." continued Col. Clardy. "And they are all coming to the table because they now feel that they can get their jobs done better with our help. The police are being trained in the latest law enforcement techniques. The judges are taking on more cases. And that they are seeing cases at all is a good example of how far we have come here. We are trying to take a holistic approach to getting things back on track."
The Marines here patrol 380 miles of Syria's border, 70 miles of border with Jordan and a small part of the border with Saudi Arabia. "500,000 Iraqis live in this area, primarily along the Euphrates River. Much of the rest of the area is desert but nomadic tribes live there. Bedouins. Towns centered on wells. And now the hard-core Al-Qaeda in Iraq [AQI] has moved out of the cities and are operating in the desert. So we too are out in the desert hunting them down."
"We make intelligence-based sweeps. The tribes that we work with in the cities originally came from the desert areas and they still know what is going on out there and are willing to help. They live in the cities now but they still think of themselves as Bedouin. But as the pressure is put on the AQI insurgents in the cities, they have retreated to the desert and they're not used to living out there." No more running water and Play Stations? Yikes!
'"So many of the insurgents are turning themselves in to tribal leaders, saying, 'I'm tired of living in the desert and I want to go home.' And the tribes take them back if they don't have blood on their hands."