Reading yesterday's entry I realize I never did get around to describing my meeting with Dr. Ali Aldabbagh, chief spokesman to Iraqi PM Maliki. Dr. Aldabbagh told me that a precipitous US withdrawal would be a "huge gift" to the terrorists. He also described Muktada Al-Sadr as a man of "restraint" and said that, like it or not, he is a "player." Events of today have perhaps put those statements in an interesting light. For a full report see my story at Cybercast News Service.
We made a quick Blackhawk trip from the International Zone to Fallujah on Monday night, and were met at the helipad by Captain Duncan of Gary, Indiana. He escorted us to our quarters which were a pleasant suprise - a modular unit with actual beds and a unit just down the line with internet. That was very welcome of course, but it put things in perspective when we learned today that one of the Iraqi internet technicians who installed and maintained the service was murdered, presumably for his collaboration with US forces.
In the morning LTC Foster gave us a unclassified briefing on operations in Anbar province. Fallujah itself was largely pacified in the famous battle of 2004. That doesn't stop the odd insurgent from lobbing a mortar onto the base and one person was killed in such fashion a couple days ago. Ramadi is the provincial capital, and the Marines have made progress in taking control and setting up a cordon making it difficult for insurgents to enter or resupply. But this is a large province, and work remains to be done. There has also been significant progress in recruiting and training Iraqi police and military. The goal of course is to turn operations over to the Iraqis as soon as feasible.
This afternoon we observed a martial arts training session. Every Marine must obtain martial arts proficiency of at least a tan belt level. This was an advanced course, and the session we saw was amazing. Instructors in the middle of the ring fought for three minutes with each member of the class. Those not fighting were doing an array of very strenuous physical exercises. At the end of the three minutes the Marines rushed to get the fighter out of his protective gear and place it on the next man up. It was an exercise not just in toughness and skill but also in teamwork. As Top Sergeant Franklin [pictured right in photo with Captain Duncan left] explained, it's not about one guy emerging as the toughest or best - it's about the team succeeding.
We'll be heading to other Marine bases in Anbar on each of the next two nights. . .