For Anbar's Rookie Governor, It's One Tough Day at a Time

Mamoun Sami Rashid, right, the governor of Anbar province since June 1, confers with a colleague in his office at Ramadi's Government Center, a frequent target of insurgent attacks.
Mamoun Sami Rashid, right, the governor of Anbar province since June 1, confers with a colleague in his office at Ramadi's Government Center, a frequent target of insurgent attacks. "It is not the safest job," Rashid acknowledged. (By Omar Fekeiki -- The Washington Post)
By Jonathan Finer and Omar Fekeiki
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 30, 2005

RAMADI, Iraq -- In a country where the life expectancy of public servants can be short, Mamoun Sami Rashid's four-week tenure as governor of Anbar province counts as beating the odds.

The man he replaced as the head of this volatile district was kidnapped 11 days after taking office in early May and died in captivity later that month. Another governor resigned in January after insurgents abducted three of his sons and demanded he step down.

The week that Rashid became governor, gunmen showed up at his home on the outskirts of Ramadi, only to be chased away by his security detail. "Of course I hesitated when I first thought of being governor. It is not the safest job," Rashid, 48, a blunt former civil engineer, said in an interview. "But I depend on two things: the protection of God and the acceptance of the people of Anbar. The work that we do will convince people that we are on the right track."

One year ago, Iraq's U.S.-led occupation authority handed a measure of sovereignty back to Iraqi leaders. Officials in Baghdad and in the provinces gained some political authority and have struggled, with varying degrees of success, to make the idea of self-governance a reality.

Rashid is at the forefront of efforts to impose political order on a Sunni Arab-dominated province where sympathy for the insurgency and anger over the U.S. presence run deep. Since early May, Marines have launched three offensives in Anbar towns along the Syrian border where foreigners enter Iraq to join the insurgency. The most recent assault took place in Karabilah last week.

The challenges facing Rashid, as well as the Marine civil affairs team that still calls most of the shots in Ramadi, Anbar's capital, appear vastly more grave than in most of Iraq's 17 other provinces. An arid swath that extends from just west of Baghdad to the country's northwestern border, Anbar lags far behind the rest of the country in security, public services and economic development.

For that reason, U.S. officials here say, the success or failure of attempts to pacify Anbar will play a decisive role in determining the country's future.

"The theory is that as Ramadi goes, so goes the province, and as this province goes, well, so goes the country, to some extent," said Col. Robert Sokoloski, chief of staff of the 2nd Marine Division, the ground force responsible for Anbar. "Getting this right is tremendously important. And we feel that right now we have a governor in place who is engaged and ready to do what it takes."

Unlike nearby Fallujah, where Marines launched a major offensive against insurgents last November, Ramadi, about 60 miles west of Baghdad, has experienced only small-scale clashes in the more than two years since the U.S.-led invasion. But on most downtown blocks, at least one building appears to have been leveled by an explosion or riddled with bullets.

The headquarters of the province's tumultuous entry into democratic rule is the Government Center, a fortified compound in the heart of the city where Rashid's plush office is located. A cross between City Hall and the OK Corral, it is a magnet for almost daily attacks by insurgents firing automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar shells.

This month, insurgents have killed at least a dozen Marines and soldiers near the compound in downtown Ramadi, and a private security contractor was shot dead by a sniper while standing guard on the roof during a meeting of provincial government officials.

Virtually every window is stacked with sandbags, and approaching vehicles must navigate a series of concrete barricades and checkpoints. Inside, politicians sip tea in offices that are often marked by dust and rubble.

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