Monday, October 08, 2007

Ramadi Report

[posted by Callimachus]

Michael J. Totten's latest dispatch is up.

Until recently the Iraqi Police in Ramadi were more like soldiers than police officers. They weren't issuing traffic tickets or doing slow procedural work. They were fighting terrorists in a war zone that was every bit as bad as the one in Fallujah just down the road.

“It's been four months since a single mortar round hit the station,” Captain Dennison said. “None of the Americans or the Iraqis out here have been in a fire fight for several months.” This was in early August.

There wasn't much dramatic to see or do. Counter-insurgency soldiers often go into hostile areas looking for fights that draw combatants into the open where they can be captured or killed. But the Americans and Iraqis couldn't find a fight in Ramadi now if they tried. So they do not try.

What can I say about Iraqis and Americans who cooperate with each other professionally and have their act together while ironing out minor problems? Peace is much harder to cover than war. Not much of note happens. Once again, I understood why war correspondents write off Ramadi as boring and why major networks don't broadcast from there.

The most compelling material I got in that city were war stories several months out of date. Anbar Province may be an ideal location for a historian or reporter who wants to research an oral history of the Iraq war or write human interest stories, but not so much for reporters who need to break news every day. It's no wonder, really, that so many journalists hole up in the Green Zone and rely on local stringers scattered all over the country to keep them apprised of the most recent car bombs and firefights. It is not, or at least not necessarily, because they are lazy or gutless.

The stories I heard about the battle of Ramadi from these soldiers were harrowing. It’s one thing to relate all this to a journalist. How do they explain what they experienced to their families? It isn’t easy, as Sergeant Kitts explained to me over lunch.

“I’m outnumbered at home with a wife and two daughters,” he said. “I love going home, but sometimes it’s hard. My littlest girl asks how long is Daddy going to visit. Visit! It’s my family and my house and I only visit. She doesn’t quite understand what I do. I tried to explain. I said Daddy goes after bad guys. She thought about that. Do the bad guys have guns? she said. Yeah, I said.” I could tell it hurt him to say this. “Don’t forget yours, she said.”

Read and learn. Later he goes to visit suspected al-Qaida terrorists.

Sometimes -- by which I mean every time I read his stuff -- it's difficult for me to understand a world where my war-protesting peers and I get a regular salary and health and dental care coverage for sitting on our asses in air conditioned buildings and shoveling this mindless AP shit and Krugman columns into a daily newspaper every night, while Michael J. has to go hat in hand to cover the cost of real reporting. So, go do your part to set the world right.