Enemy resistence is fiercest in Ramadi

In past 6 weeks, 21 Americans killed there, far more than in any other Iraqi city

October 23, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

RAMADI, Iraq -- The Bradley fighting vehicles moved slowly down this city's main boulevard. Suddenly, a homemade bomb exploded, punching into one vehicle. Then another explosion hit, briefly lifting a second vehicle up onto its side before it dropped back down again.

Two American soldiers climbed out of a hatch, the first with his pant leg on fire, and the other completely in flames. The first rolled over to help the other man, but when they touched, the first man also burst into flames. Insurgent gunfire began to pop.

Several blocks away, Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Rosener, 20, from Minneapolis, watched the two men die from a lookout post at a Marine encampment. His heart reached out to them, but he could not. In Ramadi, Iraq's most violent city, two blocks might as well be 10 miles.

"I couldn't do anything," he said of the attack, which he saw Oct. 10. He spoke quietly, sitting in the post and looking straight ahead. "It's bad down there. You hear all the rumors. We didn't know it was going to be like this."

Here in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, Sunni Arab insurgents are waging their fiercest war against U.S. troops, attacking with relative impunity just blocks from Marine-controlled territory. Every day, the Americans fight to hold their turf in a war against an enemy who seems to be everywhere but is not often seen.

In the past six weeks, 21 Americans have been killed here, far more than in any other city in Iraq and double the number of deaths in Baghdad, a city with a population 15 times as large.

"We fight it one day at a time," said Capt. Phillip Ash, who commands Company K in the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, which patrols central Ramadi.

"Some days you're the windshield," he said; "some days you're the bug."

Ramadi is an important indicator of just how long it might be before an American withdrawal.

The city has long been a haven for insurgents, but it has never fallen fully into enemy hands, as Fallujah did last fall, when Marines could not even patrol before an invasion in November.

Because troop levels have stayed steady here, Ramadi also differs from Tal Afar, an insurgent stronghold near the Syrian border, where Americans laid siege, only to have to return because they were unable to leave enough troops to keep it secure.

Still, more than two years after the U.S. invasion, this city of 400,000 people is just barely within American control.

The deputy governor of Anbar was shot to death Tuesday; the day before, the governor's car was fired on.

There is no police force. A Baghdad cell phone company has refused to put up towers here.

U.S. bases are regularly pelted with rockets and mortar shells, and when troops here get out of their vehicles to patrol, they are almost always running.

"You can't just walk down the street for a period of time and not expect to get shot at," said Maj. Bradford W. Tippett, the operations officer for the 3rd Battalion.

Capt. Rory Quinn, a Bronx native who majored in international relations at Boston University, used a mixed analogy: "It's kind of like playing basketball: short sprints. Everything we do here is a minefield."

Commanders remain hopeful that Iraqi soldiers will soon be able to take full responsibility for the city. The number of Iraqi Army soldiers here has doubled in recent months.

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