12 March 2008

Reconstruction in Ar Ramadi Images

Ramadi Reconstruction - Full Ahead

Reconstruction is in progress everywhere you look in this formerly war-torn city, which used to be called "The Most Dangerous City in the World." Local Iraqis are working hard throughout their city to clean up debris, construct fences, rebuild medians with colorful pavers, construct flower boxes and traffic circles, and install street lights.

From what I understand, there is enough work available that anyone who wants work, can get work. In the case of unskilled laborers, it may be physical labor like construction, debris removal, fence building, street sweeper, etc., but everyone that is willing to work has a job. The pay for an unskilled laborer begins at $8.00 per day, but that is better than risking one's life for a one-time payment of $50.00 to plant an IED for Al Qaeda or other insurgents.

Route Michigan, the main highway through the city, was just re-opened two weeks ago for end-to-end travel for the first time in over three years. Traffic, pedestrians, and commerce have capitalized on that re-opening, and the city is returning to normalcy. Iraqi Police units man the numerous checkpoints, alongside US Marine advisors, to insure that the citizens remain safe.

Many of the former Combat Outposts, SP's (Strong Points) and other U.S. military posts have been turned over to either the Iraqi Army or the Iraqi Police. The U.S. military's goal is to turn over all these strategic positions and forts to the Iraqis, and a great deal of progress has been made on that front.

John and I spent one night and two days with Marines of the 2/8 Weapons Company, who occupy a JSS (Joint Security Station) alongside IP (Iraqi Police) forces. They eat, sleep, train, patrol, and stand watch side by side with Iraqi's who want nothing more than to restore peace, normalcy, and opportunity to their country. After spending a couple of days with these Iraqis, I can honestly say that they are extremely dedicated to their jobs, and demonstrate initiative that surprises even their US Marine Corp advisors. Captain Martin explained that the Iraqis had recently taken it upon themselves to drive their vehicles to a central maintenance point for scheduled maintenance, rather than convoy with U.S. military forces. The IP told Martin that it was better for everyone that way, without any lag time in vehicle upkeep.

The Iraqi Police are very serious about cadre' discipline, as we discovered our first night at the JSS. We were escorted to the detention cells where suspects are held until an Iraqi Judge can arraign them, and saw an Iraqi Police Officer in one of the cells. Our escort asked him why he was in jail, and he explained that he had come to work without shaving! Now, for those of you without a military background, this may sound a little extreme. I can say from personal experience that the US Marine Corps will tolerate some things, but an unshaved face or a dirty weapon are not on that list! Obviously, the Iraqi Police had adopted this Marine credo, too.

11 March 2008

Children of Ramadi

These children are incredible. Very shy at first, they quickly warm to our presence, and before long are asking to have their pictures taken. They are very smart, and even though they have suffered a great deal during the war, still have most of their childlike innocence intact. Cries of "Meestah! Meestah!" ring loudly as we walk down the street during our four hour foot patrol through the very neighborhood where J.T. and the other eleven men lost their lives on 6 April 2004.

Along with Capt. Martin and USMC 2/8 Weapons Company, we visited a local school that the Marines are supporting. Captain Martin, John and I visited several classrooms, in which we asked the boys to recite their ABC's or count to twenty. Many were successful, and were rewarded with a pen or pencil. Unbelievably, pens or pencils were the items that children wanted most (other than chocolate'.) From what I understand, the children need school supplies desperately. The U.S. government is buying them new desks (and supplying the old desks to new schools being built,) but they still need the most basic supplies, especially pencils.

Although the security situation has changed greatly, we are still very aware that this is not your average neighborhood stroll. Many of the men smile as I pass, yet other older men hang back in the shadows of their shops and glower as we make our way down their street. New construction (or rebuilding) is visible almost everywhere you look, but almost every building still bears the scars of the fighting that was a constant fixture until October of 2007.

In spite of being raised in this dangerous place, the children were quick to smile, and attempted numerous times to engage us in conversation. My Arabic is limited to a few phrases, but the universal language of humanity enabled us to communicate in very basic ways - a smile, a gesture, an outstretched hand offered as an invitation for a handshake, a thumbs up, and even the "pound it" gesture of fist to fist were a constant.

Of course, many of the children offered to trade me watches, candy, or other trinkets for my sunglasses, camera, and cell phone. (I somehow refused these "generous" offers!) The girls were the hardest to photograph, as they were generally sequestered from the boys, often within high walled courtyards, attended closely by their mothers or other women. However, as you can see from the photographs, all the children were quite precious, and we enjoyed our time with them.