US hero honored in Ramadi

Times:

Watch Martin Fletcher's report from Ramadi

The police station in Tameen, a district of Ramadi, occupies a wreck of a building – its roof shattered by shells, its windows blown out, its walls pockmarked by shrapnel. That is not unusual in Iraq. What makes this station extraordinary is that a city in the heart of the infamous Sunni Triangle, a city that once led the antiAmerican insurgency, has named it after a US soldier – Captain Travis Patriquin.

The honour is well-deserved. Captain Patriquin played a little-known but crucial role in one of the few American success stories of the Iraq war.

He helped to convert Ramadi from one of Iraq’s deadliest cities into arguably the safest outside the semi-autonomous Kurdish north. This graveyard for hundreds of American soldiers, which a Marine Corps intelligence report wrote off as a lost cause just a year ago, is where the US military now takes visiting senators, and journalists such as myself, to show the progress it is making. Ramadi will be Exhibit A when General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, appears before Congress in two weeks’ time to argue that the country as a whole should not be written off.

In Ramadi last weekend I did things unthinkable almost anywhere else in this violent country. I walked through the main souk without body armour, talking to ordinary Iraqis. Late one evening I strolled into the brightly lit Jamiah district of the city with Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Turner, the tobacco-chewing US marine in charge of central Ramadi, to buy kebabs from an outdoor restaurant – “It’s safer than London or New York,” Colonel Turner assured me.

I listened incredulously as Latif Obaid Ayadah, Ramadi’s Mayor, told me of his desire to build an airport and tourist resort in Ramadi and talked – only half in jest – of twinning his city with Belfast and Oklahoma City. “I want it to be a small slice of heaven,” he declared.

I had met Captain Patriquin while embedded with US troops in Ramadi last November. He was a big man, moustachioed, ex-Special Forces, fluent in Arabic and engaged in what was then a revolutionary experiment for a US military renowned for busting doors down. He and a small group from the First Brigade Combat Team, part of the 1st Armoured Division, were assiduously courting the local sheikhs – tribal leaders – over endless cups of tea and cigarettes.

They were encouraging them to rise up against the hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters – Saudi, Jordanian, Syrian, Sudanese, Yemeni – who had arrived in Ramadi two years earlier, promising to lead the battle against the infidel Americans. What al-Qaeda actually did was recruit local thugs, seize control of the city, and impose a Taleban-style rule of terror. Mayor Latif said that they regularly beheaded “collaborators” in public and left the heads beside the corpses. Mischievous children would then put cigarettes in the mouths of the disembodied heads.

Captain Patriquin may have offered more than mere words. His main interlocutor, Sheikh Abdul Sittar Bezea al-Rishawi, told The Times that he gave them guns and ammunition too. The sheikhs did rise up. They formed a movement called the Anbar Awakening, led by Sheikh Sittar. They persuaded thousands of their tribesmen to join the Iraqi police, which was practically defunct thanks to al-Qaeda death threats, and to work with the reviled US troops. The US military built a string of combat outposts (COPs) throughout a city that had previously been a no-go area, and through a combination of Iraqi local knowledge and American firepower they gradually regained control of Ramadi, district by district, until the last al-Qaeda fighters were expelled in three pitched battles in March. What happened in Ramadi was later replicated throughout much of Anbar province.

Ramadi’s transformation is breathtaking....

...

There is much more. One of the other interesting aspects of the story is that people are returning to the city. While most of the media is still talking about all the Iraqis still leaving the country in Ramadi they are coming home. There is a sense of optimism that would make Democrats go pale. It has to be one of the most remarkable stories of the war in Iraq. It was only a year ago that the Washington Post was publishing leaked intelligence reports saying that the situation in ramadi was hopeless. Now it is hopeless for al Qaeda.

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