Tom Ricks asked on his blog last week if anyone had an informed comment about what was happening in Ramadi after two car bombs struck a provinicial and police headquarters, then another struck a hospital. And just two days ago, another attack occured there, blowing up a bridge the Americans use for a supply route. (There was also awere also two bombings in Fallujah.)
I can’t claim to be informed, but I did happen to spend the day in Ramadi last Thursday. (I was there accompanying seven wounded soldiers from Operation Proper Exit for a story that will appear in an upcoming issue of GQ. To learn more about them, read the Times story here, or check out the Troops First foundation website. They’re a great group of guys, and I felt privileged for having the chance to document their entire journey.)
As much as spending one day at Camp Ramadi can inform a dude–which included sitting in on an unclassified briefing and chatting with some soldiers, as well as later talking to a friend who is very close to the tribal sheiks in Anbar–here’s a few observations/questions I came away with:
1) To my surprise, after the car bombings, no Americans arrived on scene, according to U.S. military officials I spoke to there. The Iraqis didn’t ask them to come. I made the following deduction, call it ‘the frustration paradox.’ On the one hand, the Americans are pleased that they weren’t called because that means the Anbaris are taking care of things on their own. On the other hand, it means they weren’t called, which means they end up doing a lot of sitting around and watching things happen around them over which they have little to no influence. This drives the ‘can-do’ Army folks crazy, I think.
2) When I asked an officer about the recent reportsthat the Anbar sheiks felt abandoned by the Americans, and how that might pose problems for the future of Iraq he told me: “The media is overblowing it,” then added, “It’s a lot of politicking in front of the upcoming elections.” (If war is the extension of politics, can carbombs be an extension of political campaigning?)
3) My hunch is that the Americans are actually a little more concerned about Anbar then they let on to me, an unknown and potentially liberal member of the media–General Ordierno flew down for a visit to Ramadi last week as well. Coincidence?
4) There will be only 3, yes that’s right, 3 U.S. bases in Anbar by August 2010, if all goes according to plan. There are currently 5. In 2007, there were 147. In 2008, 57. Earlier this year, there were 36. The three bases are supposed to be Ramadi, Al-Assad, and Camp Korea.
5) A source who is close to a couple of big Anbar sheiks reminded me: “The Americans should be out of Anbar. They should be letting the Anbaris deal with things now. Anbaris have handled things for themselves for thousands of years.”
6) To that point: it often gets overlooked that our invasion shattered the existing tribal power structure. Then we spent six years desperately trying to put it back together again. What we’re seeing could be called a return to normalcy, but with a higher level of violence, thanks to still active local insurgent groups. (Adopt tactics like carbombs and the like, spend a bunch of time savagely fighting, and perhaps that kind of thing fuses into the cultural DNA–good old fashion bullet assasinations just don’t cut it!)
7) The Americans identified 5 main groups that are still causing problems, though AQI is the one deemed to have a “minimal presence.”