U.S. Marines on the Job in Anbar Province

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U.S. Marines in Anbar Province are faced with the job of securing the stronghold of Iraq's Sunni insurgency. NPR's Tom Bowman has just returned from a visit to the Marines there.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman recently returned from a month in Iraq. During his trip, he spent time with U.S. Marines in Anbar Province, the stronghold of Iraq's Sunni insurgency. And he sent us this reporter's notebook.

TOM BOWMAN: Iraq is an ongoing drama, and there are countless stages.

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

BOWMAN: I recently saw one performance. The stage, a water treatment plant in Anbar Province near a bend in the Euphrates River. The players, Marine Lieutenant Todd Desgrosseilliers and a middle-aged Sunni who offered only his first name, Ali. Desgrosseilliers is lean, with a shaved head and a direct gaze. Ali is portly with a stubbly beard. He wears a traditional Arab gown. Several of Ali's teenage sons gather around as the Marine colonel asks for Ali's help.

Lieutenant Colonel TODD DESGROSSEILLIERS (U.S. Marines): Let your sons be police officers.

Unidentified Man #3: (Speaking foreign language)

BOWMAN: Ali and his sons wait for the translation and then glance at each other.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #4: (Speaking foreign language)

BOWMAN: And why do they think it's funny? An Army translator gives Ali's response.

ALI: (Through translator) Oh, I'm sorry, we're going to get killed.

BOWMAN: Colonel Desgrosseilliers tries patiently to explain there are better days ahead, and he knows the only way to defeat the insurgency is for the Iraqis to take the lead.

Lieutenant DESGROSSEILLIERS: There's more of you than there are of the insurgents. It's impossible for the insurgents to win because there are more Iraqis than there are insurgents.

BOWMAN: Ali is not convinced.

ALI: (Through translator) The most are the enemy.

BOWMAN: This scene is repeated daily around Anbar Province. Sunnis like Ali are afraid to join the security forces or they despise the Americans as they drive past in their Humvees or they fear even talking to Americans. Ali blames all the problems on the politicians in the capital city.

Mr. ALI: (Speaking foreign language)

BOWMAN: Desgrosseilliers cuts him off.

Lieutenant DESGROSSEILLIERS: The system here needs to start working properly. Adults in this area, there are adult Iraqis in this area, need to accept responsibility for that.

BOWMAN: There is no local government here. The Marines fill that role. Ali and the others look to Desgrosseilliers and the Marines for everything. They need a generator for the water treatment plant. He says he will help. They need an x-ray machine and a refrigerator for the local clinic. He says he will look into it. And there is no police force on patrol. Desgrosseilliers promises such a force will take over from the Americans sometime this fall.

Lieutenant DESGROSSEILLIERS: Soon we'll get the police out here, and it'll be Iraqis who are defending and protecting you.

BOWMAN: Ali finally got to the last item on his wish list: two AK-47s.

Mr. ALI: (Speaking foreign language)

BOWMAN: Desgrosseilliers calls over a Marine with a bag of captured rifles. He also gives Ali two certificates saying he is authorized to use the rifles for self defense.

Tom Bowman, NPR News.

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