Challenges for the U.S. Military in Ramadi

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Sunni Arab insurgents in Ramadi, capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, are waging a fierce war against U.S. military troops. Renee Montagne talks to New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise.


Iraq's most violent city is Ramadi. It's the capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province and lies just west of Baghdad. New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise traveled to Ramadi recently and her account of the hardships there faced by American soldiers appeared in last Sunday's newspaper. She joins me now.

Hello. You describe a city of 400,000 where insurgents operate with relative impunity, and the situation is far uglier on a day-to-day basis.

Ms. SABRINA TAVERNISE (The New York Times): That's right. The first thing that I noticed was that when we would get out of the Humvee, we were actually physically running. We were either speeding up to somebody's house, racing inside and then speeding back away. Or we were outside on the street, literally running.

MONTAGNE: One thing notable about your article and the quotes and the things that the American soldiers told you, it ran along the lines of `We've always heard about Ramadi but we never believed how bad it was until we got here.' Is there one story that sort of speaks to that situation that you could tell us?

Ms. TAVERNISE: Probably would be the story that I used in the beginning of my article, which is really pretty heart-rending, and, for me, was kind of a symbol of, you know, how bad things are there. I mean, a Bradley, which is a large vehicle that looks like a tank, was driving along the main street of the city, hit an ID and two soldiers burned to death on the street. In urban warfare you don't rush out and endanger the lives of many other people, but at the same time, you know, it's a pretty awful thing to watch people die and you really just can't run out to them. You know, the city is too dangerous for that.

MONTAGNE: Now the problems for American forces in Ramadi are amplified by the fact that Ramadi has no police force, but is this different from other Iraqi cities?

Ms. TAVERNISE: It's different in that the insurgents seem to be much more in sync with the local population. I mean, in Baghdad, what you often see are big suicide bombings aimed at civilians and you don't have any of that in Ramadi. There was a couple of scattered suicide bombings, but really incredibly minor.

MONTAGNE: Well, the lack of suicide bombings would obviously seem to be a good thing, but are you saying, then, that that just shows how tightly Ramadi is controlled by the insurgents?

Ms. TAVERNISE: You know, of course, it's difficult to tell, but locals seem less at odds with them than they are in a lot of other places, which does, I think, set it apart from a lot of other Iraqi cities. But it's pretty typical for Anbar, which is a province that has been pretty fiercely opposed to the American occupation since the beginning.

MONTAGNE: And what about Iraqi troops stationed in Ramadi? Are they at all effective against the insurgency?

Ms. TAVERNISE: Well, there are many more of them now than there were even a couple of months ago, but they're not taking the lead role in keeping order in the city. I mean, they're often following Marines on patrol and, you know, frankly they don't have the battle armor or the vehicles necessary to really be out on the streets. Iraqi forces come under just as serious fire as the Americans. They're Shiites, they're from the south, and they're largely hated by the local residents, who are Sunnis.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for talking to us.

Ms. TAVERNISE: Thanks a lot.

MONTAGNE: Sabrina Tavernise is a reporter for The New York Times. Her account of life for American soldiers in the violent Iraqi city of Ramadi appeared in last Sunday's newspaper.

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