Todd Pittman has been reporting from Ramadi for the AP over the last month or two. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that the falsities he’s been writing lately are based more on misunderstanding than malice.
I can accept that Todd’s misconceptions are directly due to his embedded status in Ramadi. I can also accept that this is a legitimate, important piece of the story.
However, when the AP fails to make contact with the residents of Ramadi, but allows Mr. Pittman to make assertions such as:
The criminal court system doesn’t function because judges are afraid to work; tribal sheiks have fled or been assassinated.
He needs to back them up with quotes from the sheikhs and judges themselves.
I myself know two Sheikhs from the Ramadi area, and yes, if you’re going to transliterate correctly, Sheikh better approximates the sound of the letter “Kha” that ends the word Sheikh in Arabic.
How did I meet these Sheikhs, having never travelled to Ramadi personally? Well I met them in Amman, one last fall and one last week. I’m sure you’re thinking, doesn’t that prove Mr. Pittman’s poiint?
You’d be right except for one thing. Those Sheikhs, Ghazi and Majeed, and their brother Sattam, are in Amman running three NGOs and trying to shed light on the ongoing humanitarian crises in Ramadi and Al-Anbar province. The only thing they’ve fled is ongoing aggression by Iraqi militia and US forces.
Let’s start from the top with the title of Mr. Pittman’s story:
Insurgents keep U.S. at bay in Ramadi
Well, that’s fair enough, and I’d argue it’s accurate as well! Unfortunately, that’s where the fairness and balance ends.
The first paragraph reads like this:
RAMADI, Iraq - Whole neighborhoods are lawless, too dangerous for police. Some roads are so bomb-laden that U.S. troops won’t use them. Guerrillas attack U.S. troops nearly every time they venture out - and hit their bases with gunfire, rockets or mortars when they don’t.
The question here is really the definition of lawless. If lawless merely means opposition to the occupation troops and a government many still view as illegitimate, then most of Iraq is “lawless.”
I’ve been informed on multiple occasions so far, by Sheikh Majeed, as well as Qasem and another Iraqi who wishes to remain nameless, that the resistance has loose connections and communication with the residents of Ramadi. They use this network to inform the public about which areas will be under attack that day or in the coming days.
Unlike Baghdad and many other areas of Iraq, Ramadi seems to have a surprisingly low incidence of civilian casualties due to roadside bombs.
If by lawless you mean the, perhaps accidental, killing of civilians and destruction of civilian infrastructure, then Ramadi is certainly full of “lawless” acts.
Both Qasem and Sheikh Majeed recounted separate occurrences where civilians were killed in front of their eyes. The numerous accounts of snipers in Ramadi makes it difficult to understand why there are so few accounts of snipers in Iraq from embedded journalists.
Reining in Ramadi, through arms or persuasion, could be the toughest challenge for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s new government. Al-Maliki has promised to use “maximum force” when needed. But three years of U.S. military presence, with nearly constant patrols and sweeps, hasn’t done it.
Today Ramadi, a city of 400,000 along the main highway running to Jordan and Syria, 70 miles west of Baghdad, has battles fought in endless circles. Small teams of insurgents open fire and coalition troops respond with heavy blows, often airstrikes or rocket fire that’s turned city blocks into rubble.
Reining in Ramadi will continue to be a difficult challenge, so long as the governor is considered a weak leader in the back pocket of the Americans and the leadership of tribal sheikhs continues to be disregarded as secondary.
Reining in Ramadi will continue to be difficult so long as its residents see little reason to trust the American military. At this time, there are only two really feasible entrances to Ramadi. One is by the checkpoint located at the exit to Ramadi from the highway. The other is by swimming across one of the two rivers that Ramadi is located between.
The indignities faced daily by the citizens of Ramadi further ingratiate them to the resistance and further distance them from the Occupation.
According to an account told to me by a resident of Ramadi (and since corroborated by Sheikh Majeed and Qasem)
“When you enter Ramadi, just inside the city there is a stoplight. You can go straight or right or left. If you go straight you will be killed by snipers. We know this because sometimes friendds came to visit, and they didn’t know which way to go, so they went straight, and one time a whole car full of our friends were killed. There are no signs to indicate the danger, you just have to know from the people who live in Ramadi.”
If you could continue on past this stoplight, you would eventually get to the city center and the area where the much vaunted “Government Center” is located. This is one of the few areas the American military has managed to hold.
Along with the Government Center, they are also holed up in the Ramadi School and one other school in this area. These schools have not been rebuilt, and are not being used for their educational purpose, because they currently provide military function to the US and Iraqi troops.
Mentioning the difference in photos taken by Marines two years ago, and the situation now, Todd Pittman gives his own account of the Government Center area, which seems to corroborate with the accounts Ramadi residents have provided me:
Some of the pictures show bullet-strafed buildings and cars on fire, but it’s a far cry from Ramadi, 2006. Case in point: Government Center, headquarters of the provincial governor.
Once, civilian traffic was allowed to pass in front of the near-pristine edifice. Today, only military vehicles are allowed near. The wrecked building is enclosed by blast walls, barbed wire and a sometime moat of sewage. From machine-gun nests, walls of sandbags and tents of camouflage on the roof Marines repel several attacks a day.
Marines say that the governor is unfazed and comes to work despite 29 assassination attempts.
Residents of Ramadi repeatedly assure me that were the US troops to leave Ramadi, order could be restored within a matter of days. They feel that without the support of the local people, resistance elements would not be able to continue fighting.
According to Marine Capt. Carlos Barela, interviewed in the article:
We’re holding it down to a manageable level until Iraqis forces can take over the fight,
Given Qasem’s recent account of three Iraqi soldiers abandoned in his home when the American’s left, as well as the lack of an adequate translator with their unit, these kinds of stat
Mr. Pittman’s account of the civilian toll appears to be diametrically opposed to everything I’ve heard from the residents of Ramadi:
When U.S. and Iraqi troops question civilians, insurgents follow in their footsteps to visit and sometimes kill the suspected informants.
After U.S. troops use residential rooftop walls as observation posts, insurgents have been known to knock them down.
Ramadi is dangerous not only for combatants, but for civilians caught in the crossfire.
“It’s getting worse. Safety is zero,” Col. Hassan said.
After one neighborhood sweep devolved into an hour-long gunbattle, Iraqi Maj. Jabar Marouf al-Tamini returned to base and drew his finger across a satellite map of the area he’d just fled under fire: “It’s fallen under the command of insurgents,” he said, shaking his head. “They control it now.”
According to Qasem and others, many residences have been abandoned, because the families were killed or fled the increasing violence. Despite his own home being used as a sniper’s nest by the Americans, while he was locked in a closet downstairs, he doesn’t fear reprisals.
He informed me that such things have happened before, and if the Americans decide they particularly prefer a certain home for this use, resistance members have contacted the family and asked them to leave, possibly providing them some support to find a new residence.
Qasem and Sheikh Majeed both assured me that the resistance has rarely, if ever, targetted civilian buildings with residents inside. The same cannot be said for the US troops, who are so desperate to “win” that they seem to subscribe to an increasingly liberal interpretation of the Geneva conventions, setting up residence in civilian buildings, destroying civilian infrastructure, and allegedly guilty of negligence in the sniper deaths of several civilians.