–As long as we are patrolling here, you will not have one roadside bomb,” the Iraqi commander said to an American officer over piping hot glasses of heavily sweetened tea, or chai.
The commander, Col. Mohammed Rashid, wore a pressed Iraqi army uniform with red-striped epaulettes, marking him as a graduate of the former regime’s prestigious Army Staff College.
While his career in Saddam’s army ended abruptly with its abolition four years ago, Rashid has found himself once again in command of a unit of former soldiers like himself. The unit, dubbed the 1st Emergency Response Unit Battalion, or ERU for short, is an auxiliary police unit that patrols the 50-square-mile Jazeera suburb north of downtown Ramadi.
The unit, which essentially is a tribal militia or security detail, is one of scores of such units created in Ramadi and, according to U.S. commanders here, critical to securing the violent capital of western Anbar province.
This “auxiliary police unit”, the Stars & Stripes article admits, is basically a tribal militia. This seems to run counter to the lessons we’ve been learning in Baghdad and elsewhere, and counter to point #7 in the predicted new 11 point plan discussed here recently. It also seems counter to point #6, which predicted a major assault on Ramadi very soon.
So far, U.S. Army Capt. Matthew Marston, 28, of Sanford, Maine, said that Iraqi police and newly formed ERUs in Ramadi’s Jazeera suburb, north of downtown, appeared to be earning their keep.
–I was kind of surprised when we got here,” said Marston, the commander of Combat Troop, 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. –They’re very gung-ho.”
The units, which are armed but wear no standardized uniforms, have been issued pickup trucks and, in some cases, night-vision goggles. They draw pay from the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. They have, since they were stood up in November, showed great prowess in locating hidden weapons stashes, U.S. officers say.
–They find a lot of weapons,” Marston said. –Sometimes they’re even a little too eager, like when they roll up in an F-350 [pickup] with a bunch of ordnance in the back that doesn’t look too stable. They’re like ‘Here! We found these!'”
I don’t have a problem with utilizing militia-type groups in places like Ramadi. It’s because of the fact that Ramadi and most of An Anbar is still the early stages of recovery (to put it kindly) that such measures are acceptable. I said the same thing about Najaf and Baghdad in September of 2003. It’s obviously shaky ground, but if militias that we feel we can trust can be counted on to get through the early stages it could make all the difference. Granted, the tribal approach in An Anbar has had very mixed results so far, but it sure beats an all-out assault on the city like we saw with Fallujah in 2004.
Meanwhile, Iraqslogger isn’t quite so optimistic:
Ramadi Cut off; Falluja Protests Qa’ida
Fighting between pro-government and pro-al-Qa’ida local forces continues in Anbar today, and residents of Ramadi report that their city is totally cut off from the outside world.
The Americans have blocked all Internet access in Ramadi, and that land and cellular telephone links to the outside world are dead, residents report. IraqSlogger sources say that the only people in Ramadi who can communicate from inside the city to the world outside are those with access to satellite phones.
Families who have left Ramadi, even to spend just a few days in Baghdad, are finding that they are unable to enter the city. One Ramadi family that had traveled to Baghdad only four days ago decided against trying to return home, in light of the lockdown and the heavy fighting taking place between the Americans and armed militant groups.
Ramadi is going to have to be dealt with in one way or another if there’s any hope of getting Anbar relatively secure. And as Ramadi’s mayor said recently, “The future of Baghdad is in Anbar and Ramadi.”