U.S. helps establish police presence in Ramadi

Military builds station

Iraqis hunt militants

January 05, 2007|By Tony Perry | Tony Perry,LOS ANGELES TIMES

RAMADI, Iraq -- Several hundred Iraqi soldiers and police conducted a house-to-house search yesterday through the dangerous Ta'meem neighborhood of this western city, while U.S. forces feverishly began building an Iraqi police station in the one-time insurgent stronghold.

U.S. and Iraqi commanders said the effort, dubbed Operation Casablanca, is a sign of the growing competency of the Iraqi forces in this provincial capital of Anbar province, the heart of the Sunni insurgency.

The Iraqi forces searched apartment buildings and businesses for suspected insurgents. Few were found, which officials attributed to leaked warnings about the raid.

The 2,000-square-foot police station, near the mosque, market and elementary school, is set to be completed by Sunday. It will be staffed by Iraqi forces and their U.S. Army trainers.

During the mission, Iraqi soldiers danced in the streets, waving their rifles and Iraqi flags in the air, chanting, "This is our land, this is our country, death to terrorists."

The U.S. supplied logistics and communications for the early- morning assault. A hundred combat troops and several tanks from the Army's Task Force 1-77 Armor stayed on the outskirts of the neighborhood in case the Iraqis needed backup.

"These people [the insurgents] put a roadside bomb outside a kindergarten - that shows what bad people they are," said Police Chief Khaleel Ibrahim Hamad.

When a crowd of young men began forming, a Marine jet made a screaming pass at 500 feet as a show of force. Near the end of the mission, a roadside bomb exploded inside a home, apparently detonated accidentally by the bomb-maker.

Loudspeakers warned residents: "Stay inside your homes. You will not be harmed. The Iraqi forces are searching for terrorists."

Army Lt. Col. Miciotto Johnson, the task force commander, said Operation Casablanca, named for a World War II battle, will be a turning point for the Ta'meem neighborhood because it will provide a police station for the first time.

A year ago insurgents destroyed every police station in the city on the same day. That, and a series of assassinations and attacks, convinced Ramadi's tribal sheiks to drop their neutrality in the fight between U.S. forces and insurgents.

Since then, Army and Marine personnel have established outposts and police stations throughout the city. At the urging of their tribal sheiks, local residents are volunteering for the police.

About 2,000 are on duty and 800 more volunteered in December. Some schools also have reopened. The Iraqi police provide security for a local university, and Ramadi General Hospital, once virtually abandoned, has hundreds of patients.

As the provincial capital, Ramadi has strategic and symbolic importance to both the U.S. and the insurgency.

"Ramadi is a tough fight," said Army Col. Sean MacFarland, commander of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division. "Al-Qaida can't leave this place alone; they can't."

Tony Perry writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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