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The Al Anbar provincial Bid Analysis Committee reviews bids for development projects in the province using $75 million allocated by the Iraqi central government.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Dion M. Zamora

;Al Anbar today: a work in progress;

8 May 2006 | Capt. Chris Perrine

Three years after coalition forces liberated Iraq, progress continues with guarded optimism in the western province of Al Anbar, which is contested by insurgents who conduct an aggressive murder and intimidation campaign. While insurgent activity has slowed governmental, economical, and security-related progress, it has not stopped the Al Anbar residents, Iraqi Security Forces, and the Coalition from working toward a better future for this province. Provincial Government: key to the future An Iraqi province is similar to a U.S. state, and the mostly-Sunni Al Anbar Province of 1.3 million people is close in size to North Carolina. Its foreign neighbors are Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and its major cities follow the easterly-flowing Euphrates River. It has many natural resources, but much of the province is wild desert. Black marketers and insurgents are suspected of flowing across its borders and through the province. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been extremely active here.The provincial government has had severe challenges to face, including survival, according to Col. Frank J. Corte, commanding officer of the Governance Support Team from 3rd Civil Affairs Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force. Corte (pronounced “court”) says four provincial council members have been assassinated in the past few months, including the chairman as he left a mosque in March. The first provincial governor since the invasion resigned when four of his sons were kidnapped in July 2004. The previous governor was kidnapped and assassinated just days after taking office, and the current office holder has survived approximately 29 assassination attempts and the kidnapping of a son. Despite this, the fledgling government is beginning to show progress, says Corte. Governor Maamoon Sami Rasheed Al-Awani has demonstrated a dogged determination through his many assassination attempts and setbacks, says Corte, whose assignment is to advise the governor in developing the provincial government. Corte is uniquely qualified for the job; the Marine reservist is an elected seven-time Texas state representative. His wife has assumed his legislative duties while he serves his year on active duty, including seven months in Iraq.Corte says that Maamoon – who was elected as a council member in June 2005 and subsequently appointed by the council as governor¬ – has been a major force in building the provincial government. He provides leadership to the provincial directors general – representatives from central government agencies who serve at the provincial level – convincing most to come to work even while the provincial council refused to meet for months because of the tenuous security situation. According to Corte, Maamoon scored a major success April 12 when he got the provincial council to meet for the first time since Jan. 5. The council voted that day to replace its assassinated chairman and a new vice chairman. It followed up that meeting with a second session April 26 while the governor was out of town and plans to convene a third in the middle of May.“The fact that they met without the governor here is a really big deal,” said Corte. “The council members are starting to show signs of commitment.”So far the council has focused mainly on security in the province, especially the capital city Ramadi, according to Corte. Many council members have difficulty making it to meetings due to intimidation and violence from insurgents and tight security at coalition checkpoints, he says. However, the provincial chief of police, Brig. Gen. Sha’aban Mohamed Sameir asserts that security will soon improve. During the last two council meetings, Sha’aban assured members that Iraqi security forces are taking an increasing role in the province’s security. He reported to the council on the progress the security forces have made and updated them on the status of recruiting soldiers and police from Anbar. Following the April 26 council meeting, he told CBS reporter Lara Logan in an interview that Ramadi residents are gaining confidence in the security forces.“We are starting to prove ourselves, and they will see that we help them,” said Sha’aban. He also projected that in six months the Iraqi security forces would control the city with no significant problems.According to Lt. Col. Dan Wilson, deputy operations officer, MNF-W, Iraqi security forces have made significant strides in the past two years in Al Anbar. The ISF barely existed in the province in Oct. 2004. By March 2005, the province had only 2,800 soldiers and police combined. Today the ISF numbers approximately 19,000, including more than 14,000 soldiers and 4,000 police. Recruiting efforts have intensified, and the first class of nearly a thousand soldiers recruited from Anbar graduated from boot camp at Habbaniyah April 30. Three Iraqi brigades operate independently in the province with their own “battle space,” and a fourth brigade is close to attaining that level of readiness.Not all signs are positive, according to Corte. Some directors general refuse to come to work because of current security problems or other reasons. Some are suspected of laziness, incompetence or corruption. There are few established governmental procedures for the provincial government, which is waiting for direction from the yet-to-be-formed central government. Maamoon is encouraged by the recent designation of Jawad Al-Maliki as the new prime minister, but he has reserved his judgment until he sees the results.“We will see what kind of people he appoints,” said Maamoon. “If he appoints honest people, it will be good.”Other challenges plague the provincial government, according to Corte. It focuses much of its attention on Ramadi, because the capital city has no mayor or functioning city council. Telecommunications do not exist in Ramadi and other areas, and there are problems with water, electricity and other services throughout the province. Many of these infrastructure problems existed before the invasion, but improvements are difficult. When development projects are completed, insurgents often blow the project up, claiming it was a collaboration with “occupation forces.” A medical clinic in Habbaniyah was recently destroyed in such a manner, according to Corte.Maamoon’s leadership may be crucial in these areas, says Corte. He pushes the DGs to come to work and travels regularly to Baghdad to meet with the prime minister and various national ministries, including the Ministries of Defense and the Interior. He has appealed to the central government on a number of issues, especially reconstruction funding, security for provincial council members and military and police recruiting in Al Anbar. Most recently the governor has traveled to Amman, Jordan, for a series of meetings with sheiks-in-exile regarding development of the province. The sheiks live in Amman due to the current level of violence at home, but they continue to play an important role in a province heavily influenced by its tribal structure.Key cities: stepping stones for progressThere are seven significant cities in Al Anbar ranging in population from 20,000 to 450,000 residents. They stretch from Fallujah, just west of Baghdad, all the way to Al Qaim on the Syrian border. Conditions in these seven cities differ greatly, according to the Marine civil affairs officers and commanders responsible for each area. Only four of the seven have a mayor, and a mere two have a functioning city council. Few cities have a functioning police force, but violence levels vary from city to city. Some cities have virtually no essential services (health care, emergency services, electricity, etc.) and a stagnant economy, while others are beginning to improve. Fallujah and Ramadi are the largest and most influential cities in the province. They call for deeper scrutiny and are a study in contrast. Fallujah is the first city you reach when driving west along the Euphrates from Baghdad and is the scene of significant progress, according to Lt. Col. Michael V. McCarthy, detachment commander, Detachment 3, 3rd CAG. McCarthy’s detachment provides civil affairs support to the Fallujah area in direct support of the Marine unit that operates there, Regimental Combat Team 5. It is well documented that when coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003 they approached Baghdad from the south. Major combat operations had ended by the time the U.S. entered the western Al Anbar province, and an uneasy occupation began in an unconquered region. The insurgency slowly built steam over the next year, using Fallujah and other areas as a haven for building Improvised Explosive Devices and launching attacks against U.S. forces. When four Blackwater security contractors were killed and hung from a bridge in Fallujah in the spring of 2004, the United States cried for justice and U.S. Marines were sent into the city. However, they were ordered to halt when violence escalated in order to pursue a more diplomatic solution. That solution did not work; insurgents controlled the city, and the residents lived in fear and violence. In October 2004 the Marines were ordered to surround and assault the city of approximately 200,000. Most of the residents left before Operation Al Fajr, and after nearly two months of combat with militants that destroyed much of the city, residents were allowed to return. Marines kept a tight cordon around the city and carefully screened returning citizens in an effort to keep weapons and insurgents out. Today Fallujah is the scene of relative peace and stability as reconstruction progresses in the city, according to McCarthy. He reports that the atmosphere is fairly positive and the residents display an “apprehensive optimism as (they) get busier and busier with work and repair.”“With all the Al Fajr payments for battle damage since January 2006 there has been a huge influx of capital,” said McCarthy. “There are many houses being repaired and many new ones being built. Small and large businesses are showing much increased activity. In the last two weeks there was a marked rise (almost double the number) of men seeking badges to come into the city for day labor.” However, progress is made slowly and is hampered by years of neglect, poor communication and lack of electricity, according to McCarthy. “The city was in a severe state of neglect even before Al Fajr,” said McCarthy. “Many of the infrastructure repairs are long-term projects in any city. There is no sewage treatment system. There was not adequate water treatment, although it is now at about 80 percent for the city. The electrical grid was cheap, under capacity, and not repaired since about 1985. Communications are almost backward but could advance quickly if wireless were installed.” McCarthy says security is “porous and spotty at times,” but is getting better, and the security forces work well together under strong leadership. Fallujah has an active police force, which has a cooperative partnership with the Iraqi Army and coalition forces. The mayor and city council are active, and McCarthy assesses their performance as “fair,” noting that strides are being made with hard work behind the scenes. Schools are crowded, but there have been many projects for repairs and new buildings, according to McCarthy.In McCarthy’s estimation the biggest improvements to the city of Fallujah include providing fresh water, government organization, police department development and interrupting the insurgency. However, he says that lingering security doubts and problems with electricity and communications remain the biggest concerns.Corte has high hopes for the future of Fallujah. “Fallujah continues to be the example of reconstruction effort,” said Corte. Ramadi is an entirely different story, according to Corte. As previously mentioned, the capital city of 450,000 has no mayor or city council. There were no police on the streets until recently, and the current police force has a minimal presence.U.S. forces partner with the Iraqi Army in an attempt to provide security, but insurgents conduct numerous attacks throughout the city on a daily basis. The provincial Government Center is a favorite target for insurgents. The poor security situation hinders economic development and insurgents target improvements to infrastructure, according to Corte. “Intimidation is the main factor of the city leaders’ ability to be effective in the reconstruction effort,” said Corte.Corte adds that water and electricity are unreliable. The city has shortages of health care supplies and medical personnel. Fuel is available, but officials suspect a thriving black market, which may funnel money to insurgents. Banks lack a steady supply of hard currency, which is a problem throughout the country. There is currently no capability to transfer money electronically, and all transactions and payroll activities are made in cash. Still, officials are cautiously optimistic. There are now 700 police in Ramadi, with 1,000 training at the academies in Baghdad and Jordan, according to Maj. Charles H. Buxton, Provincial Police Transition Team chief, I MEF. Eventually, there will be more than 4,000 police in Ramadi and more than 11,000 in the province, says Buxton.Maamoon recently appealed successfully to the Ministry of Defense to raise its goal of 5,000 Al Anbar recruits for the Iraqi Army to 6,500, he says, but this is a sore point for him. Maamoon would like at least 12,000 soldiers recruited from Anbar, even if they serve in other areas of the country. This would reduce his province’s unemployment and allow his people to show their power. The governor and his provincial police chief predict that as the ISF assumes more responsibility for security, the residents will gain faith and trust in them, resulting in increased stability. Maamoon revealed his optimism in an April 23 interview with El Ikhaa when he said, “A month ago you could not have come here. This is a temporary status.”More citizens are signing up for security forces, even though recruiting efforts are routinely targeted by insurgent attacks. They are also participating in the political process, according to both Corte and Maamoon. Corte says that only two percent of eligible voters in the region voted in national elections held Jan. 2005, but that increased dramatically to 79 percent in the Dec. 2005 national elections. The Provincial Reconstruction Development Committee is becoming increasingly effective, and Iraqi contractors submit bids for development projects on a weekly basis, according to Lt. Col. Eric Crudo, Provincial Support Team Officer, Detachment 4, 3rd Civil Affairs Group. According to Crudo, the U.S. has already spent more than $350 million on reconstruction and development projects in Al Anbar, and the Iraqi government has $75 million available with another $100 million pending. He also asserts that Iraqis are increasingly taking part in the reconstruction process, giving the effort “an Iraqi face.” Positive outlook Only time will tell what the future will hold for Al Anbar and the rest of Iraq, but Maamoon is hopeful. In a May 4 interview he said he is encouraged by three key achievements that seem small to some but are monumental to him. Chief among these is the fact that the Anbar public is participating in the democratic political process as demonstrated by voting in two national elections and recently electing a council chairman and vice chair. Maamoon also says that the provincial government has established effective communication with the central government, and many problems have been addressed. Finally, he says that progress has been made with the development of police and army forces in the region. Maamoon acknowledges that he has significant challenges to face. “The challenge is between understanding democratic ideas and dark thinking, between building and destroying, between having law and chaos,” said Maamoon. “This is not a challenge for the provincial level, but for the whole country.” In his part of the country, Maamoon does not think it will take long to face these challenges. “I don’t give it six months,” said Maamoon. “In two months a lot will change. Now we know the cure, and the way to stability has already started. The “cure,” according to Maamoon, is getting the people to support the Iraqi security forces and participate in the rebuilding of the province. He thinks the ISF will increasingly gain the trust and support of the people and that the citizens will demand an end to the disruptive insurgency attacks. He also wants Al Anbar contractors and residents to participate in reconstruction to lower unemployment and give the people a personal stake in the success of reconstruction efforts. “We are making progress,” claimed Maamoon. “Bear in mind, reconstruction takes time. Time to consume food takes less than making food.”