(by Richard Tomkins, Dec. 13, 2007, WashingtonTimes.com) – CAMP RIPPER, Iraq – From a height of 500 feet, the topographical features of western Anbar province are almost indistinguishable – mile upon mile of hard, flat earth – broken only by an occasional oasis, canyonlike depression, narrow road or dry riverbed.
It’s not the desert of “Lawrence of Arabia,” with soft sand, camels and dunes. It’s more of the Clint Eastwood spaghetti western variety.
And Marine Col. Stacy Clardy seems to know every inch of it.
“Out there to the right, if you look carefully at the high ground, is a combat operations post,” he said from the door of a Huey UH-1 helicopter.
“There’s another one a few miles away, and up over there,” he said pointing out the opposite door, “we built berms so any vehicle heading for Haditha has to pass by us.
“This place is so sparsely populated, if terrorists want any support as they try to transit toward Baghdad, they have to go by vehicle to places like Haditha, and if they try, we got ’em.”
Col. Clardy is an intense South Carolinian, with a quick, dry sense of humor. He’s commander of the Marine 2nd Regiment out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. His desert domain in western Anbar, about 120 miles west of Baghdad, is called AO-Denver.
Parts of it touch the Euphrates River and its towns, villages and fruit groves. Other parts reach Syria, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia, and their border communities. In between lie 30,000 square miles of desert.
According to Col. Clardy, it’s that geography – combined with demographics, Marine flexibility and the practicality of the region’s Sunni Arabs – that account for the security turnaround in Anbar.
Terrorist attacks have dropped from an average of 75 a week in January to about 24 a week now as tribal sheiks cooperate with one another, Iraqi provincial authorities and U.S. forces.
“You can only trust people to do what is in their best interests,” Col. Clardy said. “The Iraqis are doing what is in their best interest.
“They see their success and future will be built on the relationship they have, we hope, with their own government and with us being here as well, and with the Iraqi security forces to which they contribute their sons.
“At some point, they realized that was not going to happen” with al Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI as the terror group is known to the Marines.
“These are a practical people,” Col. Clardy said of Anbar’s residents. “But it takes trust. And we’ve built that trust, and so are the Iraqi security forces. People are now going to them to provide tips” about arms caches and the presence of terrorists.
Col. Clardy noted the importance of tribe to Iraqis and the importance to each sheik of his own tribe’s welfare – financial and otherwise. Constant conflict is bad for business, and that means a lack of money for the necessities of life.
“The dominant tribes are making sure that all the tribes are moving toward peace and prosperity,” Col. Clardy said. “When they recruit for the police or army, they make sure sons come from across the spectrum of tribes. If they don’t volunteer their sons, they aren’t with us.”
Attempts to improve cooperation among the tribes still are slowed by the long distances and poor communications. The Marines are responding by providing regular helicopter rides to carry tribal and municipal officials to meetings with their provincial counterparts.
“When you get them in a room together, they solve problems,” he said. “When you don’t, they don’t. And they don’t always like being in a room together, but when they do, they work it out. They are a very compromising people. … They don’t like personal confrontation too much.”
Col. Clardy said cooperation with U.S. forces began on a personal level between Marines and the local communities.
“Every town is different, every group of Iraqis is different, and we have to trust our small unit leaders to be able to make decisions as long as they understand what we are trying to do,” he said.
Col. Clardy said he and his 6,000 Marines realize the situation could change at any time, but they trust in their own ability to adapt.
Beyond that, he said, “The sheiks and others know if AQI comes back, they die for cooperating.”
Copyright 2007 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
1. Who is Stacy Clardy?
2. List the factors that account for the security turnaround in Anbar, according to Col. Clardy.
3. Why does Col. Clardy say that terrorist attacks have dropped from an average of 75 a week in January to about 24 a week now?
4. List the factors that have caused the Iraqis in Anbar province to begin providing tips to U.S. and Iraqi security forces about arms caches and the presence of terrorists.
5. How are the Marines in Anbar working to improve cooperation among the tribes?
6. OPTIONAL: Every American news outlet should be reporting the good news reported in this article. Especially considering the turnaround that has been made by the U.S. Marines in Anbar province. Send an email to the Washington Times thanking them for reporting on the good news as well as the bad. Go to WashingtonTimes.com to send your email.
7. On a map of Iraq posted on the PBS NewsHour website, Anbar is described as follows:
“ANBAR: POPULATION 1.33 million
Iraq’s largest province in size, the sparsely populated Anbar province borders Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Three of the most contentious cities in the U.S. war with Iraq, Fallujah, Haditha and Ramadi, are in Anbar Province. Home to a majority Sunni population, the area has been a notoriously difficult area for coalition forces to control. In 2004, Fallujah was the site of a violent, month-long standoff between U.S. troops and insurgents loyal to Saddam Hussein. In 2006, the U.S. Government Accountability Office called the situation in Anbar Province “critical,” citing a weak infrastructure and repeated occurrences of assassinations and insurgent attacks.”
The Marines have made great progress in Anbar. Have you heard about it on the nightly news yet? Email your opinion on reporting about Anbar to the news outlet you watch. Be clear, concise and polite.
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