U.S. Will Reinforce Troops in West Iraq
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
BAGHDAD, May 29 -- The U.S. military said Monday it was deploying the main reserve fighting force for Iraq, a full 3,500-member armored brigade, as emergency reinforcements for the embattled western province of Anbar, where a surge of violence linked to the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has severely damaged efforts to turn Sunni Arab tribal leaders against the insurgency.
The insurgents have assassinated 11 tribal leaders in the Ramadi area since the end of last year, when Sunni sheiks in the city began open cooperation with the U.S. military. That alliance was heralded by U.S. commanders as a sign of a major split between Sunni insurgents and the larger Sunni community of western Iraq.
The insurgent attacks since then have all but frozen the cooperation between Sunni tribal leaders and U.S. forces in Ramadi, local leaders say.
Disclosure of the plan came on a day when insurgent bombings and other attacks killed more than 40 people around the country, including two members of a CBS News team. The team's correspondent, Iraq veteran Kimberly Dozier, was wounded and listed in critical condition. [Details, A9.]
Last week, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad conceded, in answer to a question about Ramadi in an interview with CNN, that parts of Anbar were under insurgent control. Ramadi is the capital of the overwhelmingly Sunni province. The difficulties facing stretched-thin U.S. Marines in Ramadi suggest the continuing obstacles to a reduction of American forces in Iraq.
"We hope to get rid of al-Qaeda, which is a huge burden on the city. Unfortunately, Zarqawi's fist is stronger than the Americans'," said one Sunni sheik, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of insurgent retaliation. He was referring to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, an umbrella group for many of the foreign and local resistance fighters in Iraq. Local Sunni leaders often insist that the most violent insurgent attacks are by foreign fighters, not Iraqi Sunnis.
In Ramadi, "Zarqawi is the one who is in control," the sheik said, speaking to a Washington Post special correspondent in Ramadi. "He kills anyone who goes in and out of the U.S. base. We have stopped meetings with the Americans, because, frankly speaking, we have lost confidence in the U.S. side, as they can't protect us."
Another sheik, Bashir Abdul Qadir al-Kubaisi of the Kubaisat tribe in Ramadi, expressed similar views. "Today, there is no tribal sheik or a citizen who dares to go to the city hall or the U.S. base, because Zarqawi issued a statement ordering his men to kill anyone seen leaving the base or city hall," he said.
"We are very upset. But being upset is better than mourning the death of a sheik or tribal leader," Kubaisi said. "Zarqawi has imposed himself on us. We started thinking of appeasing Zarqawi and his group, because rejecting them means death."
Gen. George W. Casey, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has called up the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, the main standby reserve force for the roughly 130,000 American troops in Iraq, Maj. Todd Breasseale, a Marine spokesman in Baghdad, confirmed.
The call-up leaves a Marine Expeditionary Unit, which typically includes one combat infantry battalion and air and logistical support, in Kuwait as the only American reserve in the Iraqi theater, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said.
CNN reported last week that as many as two of the brigade's three battalions were headed to Ramadi. U.S. military officials would not comment then, citing security of any ongoing troop movements.