STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep Good morning.
In this part of the program, we're going to Iraq's most dangerous city. It's the capital of a province so violent that the United States Military is sending emergency reinforcements from Kuwait. The province is Anbar, the city is Ramadi. And Kimberly Johnson of USA Today is the only western reporter embedded right now with the U.S. Marines there. Kimberly, welcome to the program.
Ms. KIMBERLY JOHNSON (Reporter, USA Today): Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: Can you describe where you are and what you're looking at?
Ms. JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Kilo Company atop the provincial government center in downtown Ramadi. This building and the blocks surrounding it are considered to be the most dangerous piece of ground in Iraq these days. The Marines here call it Hell's Waiting Room.
And all civilians in about a five-block radius have fled the area because of heavy combat activity between Marines and insurgents. And the buildings surrounding this Marine position have been ripped to shreds from bombs dropped by U.S. forces, as well as grenades and machine gun fire.
INSKEEP: Now, when you go a little bit farther away from that government center, which is obviously a target for insurgents - when you've been out with the Marines, what is life like in the city, day to day?
Ms. JOHNSON: Well, in areas to the west, near where the governor lives, life seems to be almost fairly normal: children in the streets, they surround the Marines, asking for candy and soccer balls. The Marines there are able to keep a more daily presence in the street, which I think makes a difference.
INSKEEP: So there's at least a slice of the city where Marines can operate somewhat freely. What about other parts of the city? Is it difficult even for U.S. Marines to go there?
Ms. JOHNSON: The area here immediately around the government center is pretty tough for the Marines. They have to do foot patrols mostly at night because when they go out on foot during the day, they generally receive combat action in every foot patrol.
INSKEEP: As best you can tell, who's cooperating with the Americans and who's not?
Ms. JOHNSON: Well, the Marines here have a challenge in convincing locals to cooperating with them. There're huge intimidation campaigns underway; and it's been the biggest hurdle, especially with the civilians leaving the area immediately surrounding the government center.
INSKEEP: You've been in Ramadi an entire month, spending time with Marines there. And I realize that it's difficult sometimes to get a full perspective on what's going on, simply because it is so dangerous and your movement is so limited. But have you sensed any evolution in the situation over that time?
Ms. JOHNSON: Well, I've been told by military officials that there has been a definite up-tick in violent attacks against Marines here. Small armed attacks against Marines in April, for example, totaled the previous three months combined.
INSKEEP: There's been a lot of news here in the United States in recent days about what's described as a massacre in Haditha, Iraq, where Marines are accused of killing a couple of dozen civilians. Has that incident been mentioned among the Marines where you are?
Ms. JOHNSON: Yes, in passing. The Marines here, understandably, have limited connectivity to the outside world. Their commanders are discussing the situation with them. And the Marines here are afraid that what's going on with the Haditha investigation could undo the progress that they have been able to make here in Ramadi.
INSKEEP: You mean that this will turn people against them even more than they already are.
Ms. JOHNSON: Exactly. And as Kilo Company Commander Andrew Delgadio(ph) told me just the other day, this is a war of public perception and something on this level could set them back.
INSKEEP: We've been talking to Kimberly Johnson. She's a reporter for USA Today and she's with the U.S. Marines in Ramadi, Iraq. Thanks for speaking with us.
Ms. JOHNSON: Thanks, Steve.
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