RAMADI, Iraq --
Mahmoud Yassin Marre, a middle-aged Iraqi contractor from Ramadi, stands proudly on the third floor of the newly-constructed 17th Street Municipal Building in the heart of the thriving city. Looking out on the city below, he sees a region undergoing a rebirth.
The streets are jammed with cars and horns are sounding by the second, similar to New York City during the hectic five o’clock rush hour. In the park adjacent to the building a businessman decked out in a vogue black suit gives an affable wave to an Iraqi policeman nearby. The city and its citizens show no signs of fear or fret.
Ramadi is no longer defined as a city torn apart by bombs and violence. Instead, the city is being redefined by peace and a booming reconstruction effort by the locals and both Iraqi and Coalition forces.
The new municipal building is the latest addition to the reconstruction efforts. The building, prior to its renovation, was used as a student dormitory. During intense fighting early in the war, the building was almost destroyed and complete renovations were required to salvage the structure.
“The building needed a complete overhaul,” said Capt. Angel Torres, the commanding officer of Civil Affairs Detachment 2, attached to 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1. “The building was hit by almost every type of munitions known to Coalition forces. It was just a frame with a big hole in the middle of it.”
Security gains in the region have allowed the Iraqi people to begin helping to reconstruct the city, often referred to as “the Eye of al Anbar.”
“As an Iraqi civilian, I can honestly say the insurgents are no longer in Ramadi,” Marre said with a look of resolve and confidence. “The security situation is a lot better right now than what it used to be. The people of Ramadi thought Coalition forces were here to destroy the city, but now they see they are here to help and protect us. Everybody wants to have a good relationship with Coalition and Iraqi forces now.”
Torres echoed Marre’s thoughts on the rebuilding and security situation. Without peace, renovating the city would be impossible, Capt. Torres said.
“The security situation right now is very good,” the 29-year-old Irvine, Calif. native said. “Having peace and security was the first step in the rebuilding process. Now, the Iraqi forces are in control here, allowing both forces to continue to reconstruct and further build the capacity of their government.”
The municipal building will essentially be the local government’s city hall. The building will be occupied by the mayor, city council members, and other elected and appointed city officials.
For the last year the city’s mayor, Latif Obaid, worked inside the police headquarters for an added layer of security. Now, with the security improvements, the government believes the city is secure enough to place the mayor’s office in a separate location.
“Having the mayor’s office at the (police headquarters), Coalition and Iraqi forces were insinuating the mayor needed the police for protection,” Capt. Torres said. “By moving the mayor, we’re now saying the mayor and the police are separate entities.”
The three-story structure, will also serve as a symbol of perseverance for the rest of the recovering region.
“The building is symbolic,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eric Jett, a 34-year-old Oceanside, Calif. native and team leader with Civil Affairs Detachment 2. “It will be a landmark, a keystone building, in the center of Ramadi. It will symbolize to the locals that their government is back on its feet.”
Marre, who was raised only a few blocks away from the newly-built structure, wanted to further expand on the symbolism. He wanted the area to be an inspiration to all Iraqis and to serve as a reminder that Ramadi is now free from terror and violence.
The unwavering contractor, with his own money, built a statue in the park near the building to emphasize that reminder. The statue was built on the site where a picture statue of Saddam Hussein, the ousted former dictator of Iraq, once stood.
“We decided to place a statue with a bird and a globe in front of the building,” Marre said. “The new statue is meant to be a symbol of peace in Ramadi; a new chapter for the city. In the past, Saddam’s face was at that site. It was meant to instill fear in us and remind us that he is an enemy of peace. We removed the old statue as a way of saying this is the new Ramadi, free of Saddam and free of violence.”
The upcoming weeks will be a particularly crucial point in time for the city, as the province’s capital has scheduled several buildings to open and many more renovations of previously existing structures.