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Five Years Past, Iraq Shows More Hope Than Ever Before

19 Mar 2008 | Cpl. Nicholas J. Lienemann 1st Marine Division

March 20, 2003, televisions glowed in living rooms across America. Families glued to the screens, watching Coalition troops brave austere desert conditions and cross the threshold, invading the hostile nation of Iraq.

Advances in the media’s technology gave unprecedented coverage of troops, humvees, and armored vehicles rolling across desolate stretches of sand. For the first time, Americans and people
around the world were able to witness two nations wage war on live television; capturing step by step, the reality of combat and the raw emotion of American sons and daughters.

In April 2003, the capital city of Baghdad was seized in less than one month of combat operations and according to a poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, 72 percent of Americans supported the Iraq war.

However, that seemed to be the most support the war in Iraq has received until the recent rise in support due to dramatic security improvements. This war has seen its fair share of controversies and hardships. In the spring of 2004, the world was shocked by images of American troops abusing detainees, as well as images of four Blackwater USA security contractors who were dragged through the streets of Fallujah and strung up from a bridge over the Euphrates River. That same bridge that now serves as a gateway to Fallujah’s flourishing marketplace.

While the fighting remained intense throughout 2004; 2005 saw a significant rise in insurgent attacks as American support for the war continued to decline.

By the summer of 2006, American support for the war had dropped to a discomforting 30 percent. The Anbar province, which officials referred to as the “wild west,” was reported to be in a dire state. According to a Washington Post article from September 2006, Col. Pete Devlin, chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq, filed a secret report concluding the western Anbar province was politically ‘lost.’

In January 2007, President George W. Bush announced a troop surge of more than 20,000 troops to help with the security situation in Iraq. A CNN poll concluded 66% ‘strongly’ or ‘moderately’ opposed the plan. The outlook for the situation in Iraq looked bleak. That is until the summer of 2007.

What pounded the final nail in the proverbial coffin for al Qaeda in al Anbar Province, was the assassination of a prominent sheik. Al Qaeda hid the body from his family for 3 days to deny a proper Muslim burial.

“Enough is enough,” said Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, from the Abu Risha tribe, to an Associated Press reporter. “The insurgent’s were killing innocent people. They brought us nothing but destruction.”

Lt. Col. Bill McCollough, regimental executive officer, Regimental Combat Team 1, said the Iraqi people realized there was a better way. “Our motivation for being here is to offer a better way of life than al Qaeda does. The insurgents were destroying Iraq but now the Iraqis have stood up and said ‘we won’t tolerate what al Qaeda did to us anymore,” said McCollough, who is also the regiment’s tribal engagement officer.

Abu Risha called upon all the other tribal sheiks in the area and assembled the “Anbar Awakening;” a collection of tribes designed to rid their neighborhoods of AQI by building an alliance with Coalition forces. Iraqi Police stations started filling up with locally recruited officers. A security element known as the ‘Sons of Iraq’ was started. The Sons of Iraq provide local security throughout their tribal areas, also because of their extensive knowledge of the area, gather intelligence and report on any suspicious or out-of-place activity in their areas.

Since the summer of 2007 and the formation of the Anbar Awakening, monthly Coalition troop casualties have been steadily declining; about two-thirds since the summer of 2007, according to Department of Defense records. An RCT-1 unclassified intelligence report revealed incidents in and around the Fallujah area have dropped drastically from around 250 reported incidents in December 2006, to less than 10 in December 2007. Iraqi Army and Police units have been working hand in hand with Coalition troops. Iraqi forces have even started to command and control their own operations.

Progress can be seen not only on the battlefield, but also in the streets and markets of neighborhoods.

“The improvements in the daily lives of average Iraqis are real and they are occurring at a time when the Iraqis are starting to take on more responsibilities for their governance at all levels,” said Maj. Brooks D. Tucker, Liaison Officer for RCTs 1 and 5, Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned. “This is good news.”

Coalition forces have also been working closely with sheiks and local government officials to make this possible.

“With every success they have, the local government’s capability grows,” McCollough said. “As the government’s capabilities grow, its legitimacy grows, and the more legit the government is, the more support it gains from the people. More support means more success; it’s a great big circle, and it’s beginning to roll on its own.”

There is no doubt progress has been made in al Anbar Province as well as the rest of Iraq. According to a February polling conducted by the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of Americans now believe “the U.S. will ultimately succeed in achieving its goals” in Iraq, an amount of support that hasn’t been seen since the summer of 2006.

Does this mean there is an end in sight? “Absolutely yes,” McCollough stated. “Since the Anbar Awakening, incredible progress has been made. Iraqis are taking control, the economy is growing, and we’re continually doing less and less for them; we’re working ourselves out of a job.”

1st Marine Division