Subscribe

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Iraqi city of Ramadi may be full of insurgents, but U.S. military leaders are not planning a major operation along the lines of the battle of Fallujah in 2004 to clear the nest, according to a senior Pentagon official.

“I think those who are looking for, perhaps, a large-scale offensive [in Ramadi] may be somewhat off the mark,” Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, Deputy Director for Regional Operations, Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters Wednesday.

Instead, Ham said, “I think what we will see, increasingly, is the Iraqis finding ways to increasingly establish the presence of Iraqi security forces.”

“And we’ll help them do that any way we can,” using U.S. forces embedded with Iraqi security forces, as well as independent U.S. troops, Ham said.

Ramadi is the largest city and government capital of Al Anbar Province and arguably the heart of the Sunni-led insurgency for the past year. Ramadi “is probably the most contentious city in Iraq, and I think it continues to be that way,” Ham said.

Since it is the provincial capital, the daily violence all but halts any real government activity, creating a ripple effect that thwarts counterinsurgency efforts by thousands of troops posted throughout the province.

Earlier in June, 1,500 soldiers from 2nd Brigade were called to Al Anbar from their staging area in Kuwait where they were on hold as a ready reserve force.

The call-up, combined with reports of Marine officers planning for a major offensive, sparked rumors that an all-out U.S.-led assault to take the city back was in the offing.

Yet even as fighting in Ramadi continues to intensify, Ham said Wednesday, “it is ultimately the responsibility of the Iraqis to decide how they want to deal with reestablishing order and security in Ramadi.”

Despite tension between Ramadi’s various factions, the city was relatively calm after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Last year, Marines were able to convince tribal sheiks to come together to form a city council.

Then, one by one, insurgents began to assassinate not only the sheiks but also members of their families as a “punishment” for cooperating with the occupying force.

The city is now virtually cut off from the rest of Iraq, with insurgents claiming complete control.

“There is a contest there” between insurgents and Iraq’s central government, Ham said, “and it’s a tough one.”

Meanwhile, troops on the ground in Anbar Province say the persistent attacks on troops and government offices in Ramadi continue to affect the entire region.

“Ramadi is the black hole of Al Anbar and it is sucking all of the resources from Al Anbar,” said Lt. Col. Nick Marano, commander of a 1st Marine Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, currently posted in Al Qaim, about 100 miles up the Euphrates River from Ramadi.

Many local Iraqis who have stepped up to forge new local governments in the lawless and violent cities of Anbar refuse to go to Ramadi for fear they will be killed, either by random violence or specifically targeted as a collaborator.

With no real ties to the provincial capital, these small towns and cities stretching west along the Euphrates River are effectively cut off from the bureaucratic and funding institutions of the central Iraqi government.

Perhaps most importantly, the provincial government has failed to properly supply some new police forces in Anbar, stymieing the efforts by U.S. troops to foster local security forces as a stabilizing influence in the longtime insurgent stronghold.

“As long as Ramadi has no security, the government of Anbar has no credibility,” Marano said. “It’s very hard to move forward for an entire region when the capital is in such bad shape.”

Reporter Andrew Tilghman contributed to this report from Iraq.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now