Build up services, break down resistance
May 18, 2007
With a moment of peace hovering inside Ramadi, its people are asking for a little bit of prosperity.
The electrical grid is virtually dead. A small sewage plant operates, but it’s only enough to handle one small part of town. The ceramics factory is closed, and the nearby workers’ quarters lie open with shattered windows and crumbling bricks.
In January, the city was in the midst of the war. It had a mayor with no budget, no officers and no paychecks, said Army Col. John Charlton, commander of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
Since then, the military has helped shape local leaders into local councils, with the hopes that they can start prioritizing city projects and make formal requests to the Ministry of Interior for help. That effort will take longer than anyone wants, military commanders said last week.
“You have no government,” Charlton said of the early part of the year. “Now all of a sudden you expect the government to be able to perform all the services of a mature government. It’s just not possible.”
Possibility and patience are two different things. While Marines patrolled a Ramadi neighborhood one evening last week, Iraqi children swarmed them in their usual efforts to get chocolate, candy, water, anything.
One group of kids had a different request: “Electricity! Electricity!” they shouted in English.
There’s a military strategy at work in making the city run, Charlton and others said. If the U.S. military can’t help deliver certain services and secure abandoned buildings, the city could fall back into the hands of people willing to pay money — and threaten harm — to gain a foothold against American troops and Iraqi forces.
Keeping the Iraqi police force equipped and satisfied is another concern. The local police are local men, most who have taken up arms to protect their own property and families.
Their presence and work at security stations throughout Ramadi and the outlying areas are vital. As one Marine lieutenant told his squad before a planned walking patrol: “If we don’t have [Iraqi police] we’re not going,” he said. “It’s not safe. It’s pointless to go without them.”
The police, too, are at risk. Eight were killed last week at a checkpoint outside the city. Most are new recruits who have been to a five-week training school. Most, but not all, have uniforms. They certainly expect to be paid, American commanders say.
Maj. Sabah Yusif Zgier, who runs the Iraqi police at a station south of Ramadi, says that did not happen for his men in March. Their pay came in April, but it did not include the missing money, he said through a translator in his office last week. He was told it was a paperwork problem, and that to fix it, an official wanted a bribe of 5 million dinar.
“They cannot work for free,” he said.
Marine Capt. Marcus Mainz leads Company L, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. He’s been in town about a month, and walks the streets often. Once he was invited inside a home for dinner. He’s learned simple Arabic phrases, the proper greetings, the words for good and no. Some of his Marines have had the name patches on their uniforms sewn in Arabic to wear on patrols.
While Charlton works on getting large money for large projects, Mainz and other commanders like him have CERP — Commanders Emergency Response Funds. Mainz can use this to get potholes fixed, generators put in the right place.
He also has the control to remove barriers, literally, that block residents’ way to work. A man greeted him on the street. A week ago, the same Iraqi was shaking in anger that he couldn’t get to his shop to receive a metal delivery. Mainz has the power to make that journey easy, and the man hugged him Thursday.
“It’s not about fighting the enemy,” he said. “It’s about getting [residents] food and water, about long-term economic development.”
During the walk, the Marines went by an empty lot where people had strung a volleyball net and drawn a court into the sand. They had no ball. Nearby, a field of garbage, including animal carcasses, rotted. Down the block, a man was stringing wires from a generator to a mosque. Another man washed his car. Kids trailed the patrol, some licking orange ice cream cones.
The Iraqi police led the way on foot. They also circled the outside of the patrol in an F-350 truck.
For those police in Ramadi, and Maj. Sabah’s who work south of the city, payday is the 15th. They have it marked on their calendar.