Remember, weeks ago, how Ramadi was touted as a demonstration that the U.S.'s offensive in the Euphrates valley of western Iraq was bearing fruit? (See, for example, militarist H. Thomas Hayden's article of Sept. 21, entitled The Road to Success in Iraq Starts in Falluja:  "A major battle is currently being fought against insurgents in Ramadi.  The US forces are working hand in hand with Iraqi forces.  Success in Ramadi may find a model for success in Najaf, which may have been attributable to the Iraqi forces assembled for the final assault on the Shiite shrine.")  --  But in fact, Ramadi cannot be a source of hope.  In an extremely grim article, the New York Times reported Thursday that things are not going well there -- further confirmation that UFPPC's April 8 statement "On the Worsening Situation in Iraq," which circulated widely and garnered 985 signatures from around the nation and the world, was correct.  --  On the Worsening Situation in Iraq bears rereading 205 days and about 450 U.S. military deaths later....


Middle East


By Edward Wong

New York Times
October 28, 2004

RAMADI -- The American military and the interim Iraqi government are quickly losing control of this provincial capital, which is larger and strategically more important than its sister city of Falluja, say local officials, clerics, tribal sheiks and officers with the United States Marines.

"The city is chaotic," said Sheik Ali al-Dulaimi, a leader of the region's largest tribe. "There's no presence of the Allawi government," he added, speaking of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

While Ramadi is not exactly a "no go" zone for the marines, like the insurgent stronghold of Falluja 30 miles to the east, officers say it is fast slipping in that direction. In the last six weeks, guerrillas have stepped up the pace of assassinations of Iraqis working with the Americans, and marine officials say they suspect Iraqi security officers have been helping insurgents to attack their troops. Reconstruction efforts have ground to a halt because no local contractors are willing to work.

Most of the military's resources are channeled into controlling a bomb-infested, four-and-a-half-mile stretch of road that runs through downtown and connects two bases. Insurgents pop out of alleyways, mosques and a crowded market and fire at marines at will, then disappear when the Americans give chase.

Ramadi lies at the heart of rebellious Anbar Province and astride the major western supply route to Baghdad. The city, whose 400,000 residents have at best merely tolerated the foreign military presence, is seen as a crucial part of American efforts to plant a secular democracy in Iraq. But the disintegration of authority puts in jeopardy both the Bush administration's plan to stage nationwide elections by Jan. 31 and any sense of legitimacy such elections might have. It also complicates the American military's plans to invade Falluja, because of the close coordination between insurgents in the two cities.

With a powerful mix of propaganda and intimidation, well-financed guerrillas have turned the people of Ramadi against the American occupiers and their allies, Iraqis and marines here say.

"The provincial government is on the verge of collapse," said Second Lt. Ryan Schranel, whose platoon does 24-hour guard duty at the besieged government center opposite the main bazaar. "Just about everybody has resigned or is on the verge of resigning."

The provincial governor, Muhammad Awad, who doubles as the city's mayor, took office after the previous governor resigned in early August following the kidnapping of his three sons, and after a deputy governor was kidnapped and killed. Mr. Awad is juggling two jobs because no one has come forward to be mayor.

Compounding the problems, guerrillas have been streaming in since the marines stepped up airstrikes against the mujahedeen in Falluja, Marine officials say.

"We hit the deck one and a half months ago, and the area has changed for the downhill very quickly," said Staff Sgt. James Keefer, one of six civil affairs officers attached to the Second Battalion, Fifth Marines, which arrived here in early September. "We used to go to civilian areas in one or two Humvees to look at hospitals and other places. Now it's too dangerous, and we need four Humvees for a convoy, and we don't have the resources."

The power vacuum here also muddies plans for an invasion of Falluja, which has about 300,000 people, because Ramadi could well become a haven for retreating guerrillas. Marines here say they have found it impossible to seal off either the highway or the desert smuggling routes between the two cities. Indeed, Marine officials say there is a high level of coordination between insurgent groups in the two cities, with the suspected guerrilla leader in Ramadi, Muhammad Daham, working closely with counterparts in Falluja.

When the marines made their ill-fated push into Falluja last April, they had to battle a ferocious uprising in Ramadi, where 12 marines were killed in a single ambush.

Though members of the former ruling Baath Party are believed to be financing the insurgency here, where loyalty to Saddam Hussein ran high, there is a growing Islamist face to the rebellion, similar to Falluja, local officials and Marine officers say. Calls for resistance emanate from mosque loudspeakers when Marine convoys roll past. In a coordinated raid on seven mosques on Oct. 12, marines said, they found large weapons caches, taped anti-American sermons and DVD's showing beheadings.

Top Marine commanders say they may open an offensive in Ramadi together with one in Falluja. But such an assault would probably have only a limited effect, because insurgents here do not hold well-defined territory, as they do in Falluja. They have instead blended into the population and conduct hit-and-run strikes on Marine patrols and outposts along the main downtown strip.

"It's difficult to describe 'sense of control' in terms of insurgent activity," said Capt. Eric Dougherty, the commander of Company E, which lost four men in the first six weeks here. "The insurgent activity is everywhere. It's at our firm bases here. It's among women and children, those cowards."

Dozens of government employees still come to work every day at the provincial center, a three-story building pockmarked by bullets and shrapnel. Marines sitting watch behind sandbags on the roof get shot at regularly with AK-47's, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

"We're one of the only units that's got bases inside the city," said Lt. Col. Randall P. Newman, the battalion commander. "This is not Falluja. We want to keep this place from becoming a Falluja."

In an interview in his office, Governor Awad attributed the anarchy to the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi security forces and the limited presence of the marines, whom he said had wasted time earlier on reconstruction projects.

"The performance of the police and national guard is very weak in all of central Iraq," Mr. Awad said as he sat behind his desk, two Iraqi guards in civilian clothes hovering near him. "The marines are not protecting us. It's true that they've helped us with some projects such as improving the water supply and sewage disposal and rebuilding schools. But people think all that is worthless. They need security."

None of the dozens of marines interviewed in Ramadi disagreed with Mr. Awad's assessment of the Iraqi police and National Guard.

Even worse, they say, the local forces sometimes aid the insurgency. Marines arrested the police chief of Anbar Province in August on charges of corruption, and Lieutenant Schranel said Iraqi National Guardsmen were suspected of helping insurgents blow up a veterans' building that marines were using as an observation post.

Colonel Newman said the only effective Iraqi troops in Ramadi are 80 or so Iraqi Special Forces soldiers from elsewhere in the country. They live at battalion headquarters and are used for specific operations like mosque raids, not day-to-day security.

On a recent afternoon, two Iraqi National Guardsmen at a checkpoint at the government center watched as a group of marines walked up. "Here come the sons of dogs," one guardsman said to an Iraqi reporter.

Next door, in police headquarters, Iraqi officers tossed around conspiracy theories.

"The Americans gave us nothing more than AK-47's so they could stay in Iraq for a long time," Lt. Abdul-Latif Salim said. "The resistance has the right to fight the occupation. It's an obligation for every Muslim. The Allawi government has no power."

Insurgents have tried discrediting the marines and the local government through widespread propaganda. Clerics regularly preach against the occupation, while guerrillas post the names of Iraqi security officers outside mosques. A marine showed a flier seized from a mosque that depicted a woman in a black robe being raped by men in sunglasses, presumably Americans.

In late September, insurgents began blowing up whole buildings downtown, videotaping the demolitions and giving the tapes to Arab television networks to attribute blame to American airstrikes, Marine officers said. The explosions have destroyed an agricultural center, a veterans' building and the Red Crescent headquarters. Their wrecked facades still scar the city.

As in other parts of Iraq, guerrillas are killing locals working with Americans. An interpreter at a base called Combat Outpost, east of downtown, was found beheaded recently. Insurgents even killed the man who cleaned the portable toilets at the base.

Sergeant Keefer said the marines tried calling a list of 100 potential local contractors when they first arrived. Many of the phone numbers had been disconnected, and people who did answer said the contractors had left town. Reconstruction "is pretty much at a standstill right now," said Capt. Sean Kuehl, an intelligence officer. "An insurgency cannot be defeated solely by an occupying power. We need the support of the local population."

--Abdul Razzaq al-Saeidy contributed reporting for this article.