Fallujah 3.0--significant improvements

Ralph Peters:

Fallujah and the Marines have some history. In 2004, one savage battle ended when the Marines were pulled out for political reasons. Later that year, they had to finish the job.

And they did. They took down the terrorists' stronghold in a week of fury.

With a fundamentalist tradition, Fallujah seemed to fit al Qaeda perfectly. Robbed of their Saddam-era privileges and out for revenge, even secular locals had aligned with the terrorists. Despite the Marine victory, violence simmered on.

The extremists and insurgents believed they could wear America down. But between 2004 and 2007, two things happened: We wore them down - and al Qaeda wore them out.

With foreign fanatics butchering the innocent and enforcing prison-yard "Islamic laws" that far exceeded the Koran's demands, it belatedly dawned on the insurgents that, while we intended to leave eventually - on our own terms - al Qaeda meant to stay.

A wave of suicide bombings earlier this year, culminating in a massive attack on a funeral procession, made the population snap. The people of Fallujah may never love us, but they hate al Qaeda with the rage of a betrayed lover.

Since May, the change has been stunning. When the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines were last in Fallujah, in 2006, they took casualties from snipers and roadside bombs. The city was violent, bankrupt and partly in ruins.

Now the battalion's back. And welcome. Marines banter with the locals where, six months ago, it was risky to ride in an armored vehicle.

Paradoxically, the violence of the past set the only possible conditions for the sudden reconciliation. The Iraqis had to grasp that we meant business. Now the 1st Platoon of the battalion's Fox Company lives and works in the Hadari Precinct with the Iraqi police.

The new police are recruited from vetted locals, and the policy has paid huge dividends. The locals know who doesn't fit, and they've got an immediate interest in their neighborhood's safety. Most encouragingly, the reformed police are popular.

...

BUT there's more to it. Much more. The Marines and the Iraqi police find they get along surprisingly well. The Americans realize that the Iraqis know the buttons to press to get things done, while the Iraqis learn from the Marines' professionalism.

I laughed to see Iraqi cops marveling at a Marine's, uh, interesting tattoos, while the Marines are still surprised that the environment has gone "nonkinetic" so fast.

And we're truly winning over some Iraqis. "Crash," is a Basra-born interpreter (a "terp") who, more than anything else in the world, wants to become a U.S. Marine. He lives and works with the Marines, studies their rituals, works out with them - and carries himself like a Marine. Crash also carries a weapon for self-defense - a right he earned after pulling wounded Marines to safety in combat.

"His" Marines are doing all they can to help him enlist.

Fallujah? Some districts have ugly stretches of ruins, while others are largely intact. The population has returned. And there's a construction boom. Meanwhile, the Marines have repaired generators, turned trash lots into parks and created hundreds of jobs. Suddenly, the city's movers and shakers want to work with the Marines.

Oh, and the mullah of the city's strictest mosque just sat down for the first time with Lt. DeLonga. They got along fine.

...

I think we should send "screw them" Kos on a tour of Fallujah. What Peters has uncovered in Fallujah is that it is not just the surge and the new counterinsurgency doctrine that has made a difference, but also the battles previously won in Fallujah by the Marines set the table for the current reconciliation.

There has been a tendency to too quickly suggest that everything done in Iraq until recently was a mistake, but people need to remember that it set the table for the current success. And, al Qaeda did its part by demonstrating that brutality does not win hearts and minds.

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