Tuesday, October 09, 2007
The iraq insurgency: people rise against al qaeda
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/10/08/wanbar308.xml&page=2 By Damien McElroy in Husaybah 09/10/2007 Damien McElroy spent a week in the heart of the insurgency in Anbar province in Iraq. In the second of seven exclusive reports he describes how peace and prosperity have returned to a town formerly riven by sectarian killings. In a town tucked tight against the Syrian border, US Marines pass softly along a darkened street as the crack of contact rings out. Instead of a panicked rush for cover, the leader of the patrol turns to cheer. The familiar sound was not from the barrel of gun but the baize of an upstairs pool hall. A transformation has swept western Iraq that allows Marines to walk through areas that a year ago were judged lost to radical Islam control and hear nothing more aggressive than a late-night game of pool.Behind the shutters the Sunni Muslim residents of the province are enjoying the dividends of driving out al-Qa'eda fighters who had imposed an oppressive Taliban-style regime. The popular uprising against al-Qa'eda by residents of Anbar Province turned former enemies into American allies earlier this year. The result was a dramatic restoration of stability across Iraq's Sunni heartland. Husaybah bears the scars of the "terrorist" years - 2004 and 2005 - when al-Qa'eda and its local allies controlled the town.Buildings stand half destroyed, roads remain torn up and almost half its population has fled. Much of the physical damage was inflicted in Operation Iron Curtain last year when Marine companies fought building by building to retake the town. Amid the ruins, relationships have been built by a softly-softly approach by American troops. Footpatrols are hailed with cries of Salaam (Peace) and Habibi (Friend) in streets that were in no-go zones for the coalition a year ago. A ten-man unit of US Marines passes nightly along Husaybah's market street and zig-zags down alleys into residential areas. As they walk out, the sounds of a town reviving fill the air. Sweet shops are filled with customers, workshop churn out furniture. "It's been a while since we hit any trouble," said patrol leader, Corporal Kristian Bandy. "We get a lot of feedback from the locals now, they tell us where arms caches are and if anyone's acting suspicious they turn him in."In the advanced field combat hospitals run by the Navy in Anbar province, there is suddenly nothing to do. Equipped to handle sudden rushes of dozens of gravely injured troops, the hospitals are empty.Commander William Klorig, the chief US medic in Anbar, said the numbers treated at the facility in al-Taqqadum has plummeted to less than 80 personnel in a week."Our expectation on deploying here was we would be caring for a great many combat wounded," he said. "That is not the way it has turned out. Many days we have no work." Confident that progress is irreversible America is pushing to reopen Husaybah's border crossing with Syria. A large checkpoint under construction is due to start operating in mid-November. Security guards at the border will be equipped with a plethora of high technology to ensure bombs and weapons can't be smuggled from Syria."I'm not putting a number of how many vehicles will go through here, probably very many," said Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Giorno, the official in charge of the project. "My standard is safety. If just one gets through and nobody is killed, that's good for me." Mr Kareem and other Husaybah residents claim that the peace that followed the expulsion of al-Qa'eda has triggered an economic revival and restoration of favourite pastimes. Ghanim Mirdie Waleed, coach of the local football team, who celebrated a recent victory with cigarettes, paid tribute to the American role in Husaybah. "The conflict here was all caused by al-Qa'eda," he said. "We work and play as we like under the coalition security. There are jobs for people, shops are opened and we are very happy." With al-Qa'eda pushed out, Anbaris are even rallying to a new shared cause with America - a fight to secure the country against Iranian infiltration. Husaybah residents condemned Iran at nightly meetings where locals sit on stoops to enjoy the cool midnight breeze. Sectarian fighting is taking place hundreds of miles to east of the Syrian border but Iran's interference in Iraq ranked as a primary reason to back the American presence. "The Shia are my brothers in Iraq," said Raad Majid Kareem. "But the militias in Baghdad are an Iranian front that taking over the country. They are bringing hellfire to Iraq. The Coalition Forces are trying to destroy them. The Sunnis and the tribes embrace American so that they can to do it." One of the leaders of the tribal revolt, Shiekh Kurdi Rafi Al-Shurayji said there was nothing to distinguish al-Qa'eda and the regime in Teheran. "They are no different," he said. "Al-Qa'eda relies on Iran's support, just the same as every evil force in Iraq." Police Col Obaida Sueidi Khalif said Anbar's gains will remain dependent on the Americans until the government in Baghdad is capable of representing the entire nation."A lot of people from outside Iraq are trying to destroy our country," he said. "The people have to let the Coalition Forces not just here but in the capital help us because Baghdad can't run Iraq until it reconciles with the competent officials who served under Saddam Hussein." A reduction in extremist intimidation has brought a flood of officers and men from the army disbanded after the 2003 war, back into Iraq's security forces. Anbar's main training academy this month held the first class devoted exclusively to Saddam era colonels and majors who have joined the new army's 7th Division. Symbolically the class was the first to receive instruction in the workings of the US M16 assault rifle, which is to be the new weapon of the country's armed forces."I decided to rejoin two years ago but I live in Ramadi and the insurgents would have killed me and my family if I signed up until now," said Lt-Col Hamid Adwas. "As soon as the city was safe, I came back."