Peace Remains Elusive in Anbar, Iraq

Anbar Province, northwest of Baghdad, remains the most dangerous area in Iraq. American Marines are trying to bring order, but without much help from the Iraqi police battalions, whose numbers are dwindling.

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In Iraq, Anbar Province northwest of Baghdad is the most dangerous area in the country. American Marines and Iraqi forces are trying to bring the area under control, but so far that's been a tough task.

NPR's Tom Bowman recently traveled to Anbar and sent this report.

TOM BOWMAN: The Iraqi police station in the city of Karma sits off a main road the Marines have dubbed Route Chicago. It is a squat, gray concrete building all but invisible behind the stacks of sandbags.

The Marines are here for a city council meeting, but no one else showed up. That's because of the whisper of danger a half an hour earlier. A bustling market nearby suddenly emptied. Women grabbed their children. Cars sped off. So there's an unsettled feeling as the Marines edge out of the police station.

Unidentified Man #1: Yes, sir.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

BOWMAN: The Marines take fire.

Unidentified Man #2: Hey, get him down in the bags. Let's go.

BOWMAN: They fall back to the blessing of the sandbagged wall. The nearby school is a favorite haunt for snipers. Mortars, too, are common. A day earlier, five of them arced into this compound. The shower of metal destroyed a few vehicles.

Lieutenant Colonel DALIFF (Police Commander, Karma, Iraq): (Through translator) The problem is that the local people are controlled by fear. They're too afraid to report anyone because they'll kill them in revenge.

Lieutenant Colonel Daliff is the police commander here in this city of 70,000. He is a quiet and steady presence. Marines say he is better than the last commander, who was indifferent to the violence.

Lieutenant Colonel DALIFF(ph): (Through translator) People feel happy when they see the Marine patrols and when they see the Iraqi army and police patrols because they feel secure when they see that those patrols are around. And you, our friends, have offered us every help and assistance to build our forces.

There should be 25 police on a four-day shift. There are just 11. To make matters worse, the police have no gas. The Iraqi government is not providing it. So Daliff pays for gas out of his own pocket. If all worked as planned, the police would drive through the city on 14 daily patrols. Daliff can muster only four.

The Marine commander sits and listens. Lieutenant Colonel Ken Detrue(ph) has been here two months. He and about 1,000 Marines cover a long rectangle of cities, towns and desert. Colonel Detrue tells the police commander he must do more.

Lieutenant Colonel KEN DETRUE (U.S. Marine Corps): It's important that the Iraqi police are seen on the street. We need to find an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem. Success is going to be gained by having police on every corner.

BOWMAN: Detrue is a lean, working class guy from Philly. He has a shaved head, eyebrows that angle into a scowl and a needling wit. He offers Daliff a lesson from the mean streets of New York City.

Unidentified Man #1: Mayor Giuliani had police on every corner, and that was proactive policing.

BOWMAN: But the Marines know that Daliff faces an uphill struggle. They say the mayor has ties to the insurgents. The local mosque posts the names of policemen, marking them for death. Some of them have been killed. Some of the living left but never came back.

Detrue and his Marines climb into their Humvees and drive down Route Chicago to the Iraqi army station. Marines poke out of the Humvees's turrets clutching 50-calliber machine guns. They are suspicious of everything they see before they turn toward another dusty bunker.

(Soundbite of squeaky door)

BOWMAN: Detrue is greeted warmly by Colonel Najam(ph), a pot-bellied man with a ready smile, who keeps a cage full of canaries outside his office. He is an Iraqi army battalion commander. He wears an American Army T-shirt.

Colonel NAJAM (Iraqi Army Battalion Commander): (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: What the hell is going on?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #2: I know, I know.

BOWMAN: Najam also is short on soldiers, just like the police. He should have about 750 soldiers. Instead, he has about 250 on the books. Some have deserted, some are on leave, so on this day he has just 120 soldiers. Najam's battalion will soon be replaced by another, a new Iraqi unit with the same old problem.

Do they have the same challenges in 341 with soldiers not coming back?

Unidentified Man #4: (Through translator) Officers and soldiers.

BOWMAN: Officially, the Iraqis here are supposed to be in the lead, not in a supporting role. Sergeant Christopher Platter is one of the American trainers for the Iraqi soldiers here. Soldiers like Platter know the Iraqis are not ready to take over security duties.

Sergeant CHRISTOPHER PLATTER (U.S. Marines): We cannot conduct a major operation as a battalion due to lack of personnel, so that is why we conduct a lot of combined major operations with the Marines.

BOWMAN: That would be the second battalion of the Eighth Marine Regiment from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Detrue's unit conducts raids, builds observation posts and sets up checkpoints. His Marines patrol in remote parts of Anbar. Those Marines have no Iraqi soldiers working with them. Colonel Detrue's Marines are still the main security force here.

Colonel DETURE: Some could view that as a step back, but I feel as though it's only a short-term solution until recruiting can get more (unintelligible), more soldiers, more Iraqi soldiers, into the fight.

BOWMAN: And there has been a toll. In August, one of Detrue's Marines, Lance Corporal James Hurlston(ph) of Tennessee, died from a sniper's bullet. And just last week another Marine, Lance Corporal Howard March from New York state, was killed in a gun battle with insurgents in western Anbar.

There have been some bright spots. Earlier this month, an Iraqi army lieutenant helped capture two men with a sniper's rifle who allegedly just shot and wounded a Marine. And 97 new Iraqi army recruits came forward in recent weeks. All are natives of Anbar Province.

Still, more than one Marine echoes Colonel Detrue's comment to the Iraqi police commander. They want an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Anbar Province.

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