A Positive Story From The Iraq War

From my Favorite Marine!

I can’t stress enough the positive that is coming out of Iraq – especially where the Marines have responsibility.  It is HUGE – the good that is happening there – HUGE!!!

Philadelphia Inquirer
June 8, 2007

In Anbar province, local sheikhs and U.S forces have cooperated to score victories over al-Qaeda.

By Kevin Ferris

Here’s one problem with Washington’s war-is-lost chorus: It too often drowns out the accomplishments of those who are actually trying to win.

But it shouldn’t.

Consider the recent reports of the Anbar Awakening, a movement by Sunni sheikhs who have rejected al-Qaeda’s vision for Iraq and aligned themselves with U.S. forces.

Army Col. Sean MacFarland was in Anbar province most of last year, part of the First Marine Expeditionary Force commanded by Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer, who wanted to be more aggressive in challenging al-Qaeda’s control of Ramadi.

In an e-mail interview from his current post in Germany, MacFarland described the birth of the Awakening as a “chemical reaction” needing “two compatible ingredients and a catalyst.”

“The ingredients were some frustrated sheikhs who were frozen out of the provincial government due to a bad decision to boycott the first elections, and a new brigade combat team in town,” he says.

The catalyst? Vicious attacks by al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Last spring, MacFarland started establishing combat outposts in al-Qaeda strongholds, what his troops called Ramadi’s “heart of darkness.” Local sheikhs noticed, especially after MacFarland took their advice about where to place Iraqi police (IP) stations. The reward was an increase in local tribesmen joining the force.

The new stations and a wave of failed attacks against the outposts soon had al-Qaeda worried about losing its safe havens, MacFarland says.

“These new Iraqi police were not susceptible to murder and intimidation because the IP substations that we established near their homes provided protection to their families,” MacFarland says. “They had the support of their tribes behind them and, what was worse for the enemy, the IPs knew exactly who was bad and where to find them.”

Next, al-Qaeda hit a police station with a “massive fuel-enhanced truck bomb,” killing a few officers and wounding many others. The police were offered the chance to retreat to the safety of a U.S. base, but they

“They insisted on staying put to show that al-Qaeda could not win,” MacFarland says. “They raised their flag again in a moment somewhat reminiscent of Iwo Jima, and began to actively patrol again that very

That attack and the killing of a sheikh finally brought other local leaders together. The manifesto they drafted and presented to MacFarland had three main themes:

Fight al-Qaeda.

Work with coalition troops and Iraqi security forces.

Uphold the rule of law and work within the framework of the constitution.

The results “could not have been more dramatic,” MacFarland says. “When a tribe ‘flipped,’ attacks on U.S. soldiers and Marines in that area dropped to zero almost immediately.”

However, the decision to confront al-Qaeda in its neighborhood strongholds meant increased casualties until the enemy was beaten, which MacFarland likens to events in Baghdad as coalition and Iraqi forces
fight to assert control.

“Al-Qaeda fought us to the last redoubt” in Ramadi, he says. “We should expect the same in Baghdad.”

As the Awakening continues to spread throughout the Sunni Triangle, there are lessons for U.S. forces, MacFarland says.

One, though this Sunni-based movement is not applicable to all regions of Iraq, “there are local solutions to be had if we are willing to look for them.”

Two, “Our avowed enemy, al-Qaeda, is beatable in Iraq.”
“Remember, when we arrived in al-Anbar last summer, the conventional wisdom was that the province was a lost cause – unwinnable,” he says. “I never believed that, and now we see that is not true.”

That message needs to reach Washington and inspire an awakening there, too.

Ferris is Inquirer Commentary Page Editor.


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