RAMADI, Iraq --
RAMADI, Iraq (June 10, 2008) – In a small, granite-floored room, a group of Marines eagerly wait alongside a squad of Iraqi Police for their foot patrol to begin. Lt. Col. Brett A. Bourne, battalion commander of 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, enters the room full of confidence and asks “Are we ready to go out?” Without delay, he receives a resounding “Yes” from both groups.
The Marines and Iraqi Police, decked out in full gear, began the patrol in a dust storm towards the marketplace, or as the local Iraqis call it—the souk. Upon arriving at the vibrantly colored shopping area, the Marines and Iraqi Police immediately received smiles, hand shakes and greetings of “Al salaam a’alaykum’s,” which is a term of endearment and greetings meaning “God be with you.” The two forces have made their presence known in the souk, they are here for one thing: the people. Their mission is to intermingle with the locals and hear their valued opinion of the rebuilding of their city.
“We went on the patrol to accompany the battalion commander, check out the souk, interact with the locals and view all of the progress in the area,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Giovanni Lozano, hospitalman with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines.
This patrol would’ve been out of the question nearly two years ago when the souk and Ramadi was the tip of the spear for the insurgency. The city’s market area was widely considered by most as a “no go” zone. Within seconds of entering the area, Marines would often encounter small-arms and sniper fire, along with rocket-propelled grenade attacks. But since then, the locals have rebelled against the insurgency and embraced the presence of Coalition forces, in turn launching the rebuilding of the bullet-riddled city.
“The people got sick of having their wives and children blown up by people who just want to cause trouble,” said Cpl. Chris Sarlo, an anti-tank assaultman with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. “They saw that the Marines were trying to get the terrorists out of the province, so they decided to help us out with the Awakening.”
Nowadays, Ramadi is much safer and the vivacious souk is visited almost daily by Marines and Iraqi Policemen.
In a 2006 New York Times article, when the region was in chaos, then-Governor Awad of al-Anbar Province said, “The performance of the police and national guard is very weak in all of central Iraq.” In a startling contrast to those comments, the policemen have made an incredible improvement since the area was deemed secure. Now, the policemen are operating independently with Coalition forces only serving in an overwatch role to mentor and assist the budding force.
“The Iraqi Police are doing well,” said Sgt. Nicholas V. Rojas, a forward observer with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, currently on his second deployment to al-Anbar Province. “Compared to my first deployment in 2005 at Camp Hit just northwest of Ramadi, I’ve noticed a considerable change in how the Iraqi Police conduct themselves and with their tactics. The Iraqi Police show more of a desire to take over, for instance, if they see an improvised explosive device, they know what to do, they no longer come to us with questions. They come to us with the finished product. They’re definitely doing a great job.”
The Marines and Iraqi police receive a positive response from the locals every time they patrol through the marketplace.
“The souk is usually pretty busy, a lot of hustle and bustle,” Sarlo said. “For the most part the people are really friendly, if you say hello to them they’ll smile and say hello back. The area is 100 percent better than what it used to be.”
The new found trust between the Marines and the locals has allowed both sides to realize, despite their differences, we are all looking for the same thing, for Iraq to be a success story.
“Once I got here, I realized they’re pretty good. I’ve gained a lot more respect for the Iraqi people – they’re awesome,” said Lance Cpl. Cody A. Collins, rifleman with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, currently on his second deployment to Iraq.