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Col. John W. Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, visits Combat Outpost Iron in southern Ramadi recently.
Col. John W. Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, visits Combat Outpost Iron in southern Ramadi recently. (Monte Morin / S&S)

RAMADI, Iraq — It’s a tale of two Ramadis.

As troops attached to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division wage a pitched battle against entrenched militants in the city’s downtown — a fight marked by dense urban terrain, booby-trapped buildings and sustained gunbattles — units to the city’s immediate west, north and northeast are experiencing an unprecedented calm.

The split personality in this provincial capital of roughly 500,000 largely has to do with a recent alliance between U.S. forces and a dozen local tribes who say they’ve had enough of militants whose stated goal is to oust U.S. troops and establish an Islamic caliphate in the region.

A campaign to root out and destroy enemy cells in Ramadi’s notorious Mulaab district — a downtown neighborhood of roughly 15,000 residences — kicked into high gear this week as troops with the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division began clearing the quarter, building by building.

The ultimate goal, commanders say, is to establish nine permanent Iraqi police stations throughout the downtown to try to hold the territory.

But even as this costly battle rages downtown, Col. John W. Charlton, commander of the 1-3ID, is planning an economic revitalization conference for the city’s western Ta’meem neighborhood.

Among other projects, Charlton hopes to kick start the renewal of power and water stations in the once notorious neighborhood, as well as reactivate Ramadi’s large ceramics and glass plant.

“It’s a unique situation, a real counterinsurgency fight,” Charlton said Wednesday. “In one part of town we’ve got massive kinetic operations. On the other side, we’ve got massive non-kinetic operations.”

The current kinetic fight was formulated months ago by the 1-3ID’s predecessor, the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division. For roughly eight months, units under the 1-1AD battled militants with heavy armor, satellite-guided rockets, jets and ground troops, clearing much of downtown’s eastern neighborhoods and closing in on neighborhoods like Mulaab.

The focus changed radically in November, however, when area tribes sided with U.S. forces and volunteered more than 4,500 local men for service in the Iraqi police and associated security units dubbed Emergency Response Units, or ERUs.

When the sheik of a Ramadi suburb called Sofia, northeast of downtown, called U.S. forces to say his clan was being attacked by more than 50 insurgents, 1-9 troops responded, killing most of the attackers. From there, troops focused on securing this area and other suburbs further east, leaving the downtown battle on hold.

“We had an opportunity we didn’t expect and we took it,” Col. Sean MacFarland, commander of the 1-1AD said recently. “We figured that once we secured those areas, we’d go back to our original plan of clearing downtown.”

Today, Charlton’s troops, as well as soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, are once again pushing the fight downtown. During a visit to Combat Outpost Eagle’s Nest in the city’s center, Charlton discussed the operation with 1-9 commanders.

One reason the city’s downtown remains more violent than outlying areas is that it lacks a formal tribal structure, and therefore has yet to benefit from the local tribes’ movement known as the “Anbar Awakening.”

The downtown fight has been a hard one, as militants used the lull to build up their defenses, officers said, lining streets with vehicle and anti-personnel bombs, rigging the sides of buildings with improvised rockets and cementing explosives into courtyard walls.

Earlier this week, an entire U.S. squad was severely wounded when they sought cover beside such a wall and it exploded.

“Entire buildings have been rigged with explosives,” Charlton said. “They’ve literally made the building a weapon.”

Explosives teams have worked around the clock clearing the area of caches. Soldiers have discovered numerous roadside bomb and car bomb “factories.” Recently, troops found that a local school had been converted into an enemy firing range, complete with silhouette targets. Troops also discovered a bomb nearby, its detonating cables leading into an adjacent mosque.

Commanders also say militants have laid boards across rooftops of adjacent buildings to allow them to move through the neighborhood without using the streets, and that enemy fighters also have taken to attacking U.S. and Iraqi troops from buildings occupied by civilians.

That tactic, they say, seems intended to draw U.S. fire on households so as to cause civilian deaths and generate negative publicity.

Some commanders estimated that at the time the operation began, from 100 to 200 of such hard-core Islamic militants operated in the city. Today, some U.S. commanders estimate that roughly 60 enemy fighters remain.

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