RAMADI, Iraq --
RAMADI, Iraq (July 9, 2008) - The Provincial Government Center for al Anbar, located in the heart of downtown Ramadi, was a vicious and violent battleground for much of the last five years.
But as the city emerges from the violence that has plagued it for so long, thanks in part to Iraqi and Coalition forces’ security efforts, the center now stands as a as a symbol of peace and stability. Governmental leaders operate there daily, overseeing a variety of departments critical in continuing the region’s growth.
First Sergeant Patrick J. Dostal, the Headquarters and Service Company first sergeant with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, is on his second tour in the city and is overwhelmed by the center’s development since his first tour in 2006.
“The government center now is a totally different place,” Dostal said. “Before, you couldn’t even see the actual building. You could tell there was some type of structure there, but that was it.”
Dostal said the government center was a key target for insurgents because of its strategic and symbolic importance. They often lurked on the outskirts of the building waging a constant battle, eager to disrupt government operations. The building was so heavily fortified, he said, it could not be seen from nearby streets and the surrounding area was a sea of ruins composed of collapsed buildings and piles of concrete.
“We received plenty of small arms fire, indirect fire, rocket-propelled grenade attacks and roadside bombs always popped up,” said Dostal.
In the last five years, the government center and the area around it has undergone many changes during efforts to secure the building. The concertina wire and large sandbag reinforcements surrounding the area have been removed.
One of the most notable changes resulted from Iraqi government and Coalition forces officials’ decision to bulldoze approximately three blocks of rubble around the center.
“All of the abandoned shops, and a building we called the Rashid Hotel in front of the (center), were bulldozed,” Dostal said. “The insurgents would shoot at us from those spots. Bulldozing around the government center gave us more room to protect (the center). The attacks still happened, but not as often.”
The transformation the government center has undergone can also be attributed to the citizens’ revolt against al Qaeda in Iraq.
“The citizens stood up to al-Qaeda and now Ramadi is pretty quiet,” said Cpl. Abdias Betancourth, a motor transportation operator with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, who also served in the city in 2006. “The people are determined to get back to a sense of normalcy.”
With the reduction in violence, increased cooperation between Iraqis and Coalition forces, and a functioning provincial government operating safely inside the confines of the government center, the city of Ramadi has taken a turn for the better.