By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2006 – The battle for Ramadi has "tipped" in favor of the government of Iraq and the coalition, the commander of 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, said today. Army Col. Sean MacFarland told the Pentagon press corps in a video teleconference call that attacks are down 25 percent over the past couple of months, and coalition forces, together with the Iraqi security forces, have steadily increased their presence inside of the city.
Ramadi, the capital and largest city in Anbar province, has been an al Qaeda in Iraq and Sunni insurgent hotbed. But now the tide seems to have turned, MacFarland said. "The Iraqi police recruiting has soared tenfold, and the Iraqi army readiness has improved to the point where Iraqi army battalions are now assuming the lead in portions of the city and its suburbs," he said.
Coalition-sponsored public works projects are bringing improvements in Iraqi quality of life. "Water and power projects are moving forward," he said. "And by February, we will have more than doubled both basic services."
MacFarland said he is encouraged by the attitude of the people of the city. The people who were fence-sitters in the battle between the Iraqi government and al Qaeda in Iraq are stepping forward and cooperating with Iraqi security forces against al Qaeda, he said.
"I think al Qaeda has been pushed up against the ropes by this, and now they're finding themselves trapped between the coalition and (Iraqi security forces) on the one side and the people on the other," the colonel said. "Now it's the al Qaeda forces that need to be worried about living in those neighborhoods. They stick out like a sore thumb. Everybody knows who the terrorists are."
Local sheikhs are cooperating with the Iraqi government. Tribal leaders are steering new recruits to the police, and they are becoming more effective. MacFarland said that Iraqi police in Ramadi today intercepted insurgents driving a car loaded with rocket-propelled grenades. "The insurgents tried to run away," he said. "(The police) chased them, and they killed or captured the entire group."
In another instance, the police intercepted a suicide car bomber before he could detonate the car at an Iraqi police position.
"There's still a lot of work to be done, but I'm very encouraged by the direction of events here," he said.
The colonel said the insurgency is "beatable" in Ramadi, but it will not be coalition forces that do the beating. "The instrument of their destruction will be the Iraqi security forces," he said. "And that's why we've been working so hard to develop the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army in and around Ramadi, and to that end the acceleration of their readiness has been very heartening."
The aim of U.S. forces in the city is to drive the level of violence in Ramadi down to a level that the Iraqi security forces will be able to manage after the coalition's departure. "So I am responsible for setting the conditions for success for the (Iraqi forces), and I think we're making good headway on that," he said.
But MacFarland again stressed the importance of getting the population on the Iraqi government's side. "It's got legs; it's moving forward, and it's because success begets success," he said. "The people are beginning to recognize that the coalition and the Iraqi security forces mean business, that they're here to stay -- especially on the Iraqi security force side -- and that they have the ability to stay.
"At the same time, they've come to recognize that al Qaeda offers them nothing, nothing but death and destruction, and that they are turning away from the al Qaeda fighters and turning toward their own sons who are in the Iraqi security forces."