Many Marines Head to Dangerous Anbar

The Associated Press
Saturday, December 2, 2006; 1:03 PM

RAMADI, Iraq -- Even as leading Democrats talk about gradually sending troops home from Iraq, thousands of recently deployed Marines are getting their first taste of the war.

About 2,200 Marines left their ships in the Persian Gulf two weeks ago for the dangerous city of Ramadi and other locales around Anbar province, where entrenched and well-financed insurgents use roadside bombs, rocket and mortar attacks, ambushes and snipers to kill American troops at rates approaching one per day.

Two battalions from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been assigned to this city of mansions with towering, gilded columns and crescent-shaped windows, the capital of a Sunni Arab province that stretches west from Baghdad to the Iraqi borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Only about 20 percent of those in the battalions arriving in Ramadi have fought previously in the Iraq war _ though some have combat experience from Afghanistan, Kosovo and the first Gulf War, said 1st Sgt. Eric Carlson from the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines. He said he didn't want specific numbers to appear in print, fearing it could help insurgents plan.

"This is why they joined the Marines, for combat," said Carlson, a 38-year-old Chicago native who fought in Iraq during the first Gulf War but is on his first deployment here since the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

"There's a lot of bad people in this city, all over this province," he said. "We're here to help in whatever way we can."

During their short time in Ramadi, one Marine already has been seriously wounded, taking a bullet to the neck in an ambush a few blocks from an Army outpost. He was rushed to Germany for surgery that was able to prevent paralysis.

About 30,000 U.S. troops _ more than 20,000 of them Marines _ are spread thinly throughout the deserts of Anbar, which is roughly the size of North Carolina and home to 1.4 million people. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit had been designated as a reserve force for Iraq to be tapped if circumstances called for a boost in U.S. presence.

Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, has sent the unit to Anbar to provide reinforcements for about six weeks _ though its tour here could be extended.

"Abizaid putting more Marines into Iraq might be posturing on his part after the Democrats won back Congress," said Lance Cpl. Tyler Ceniseoz, 21, of Curvina, Calif. "When everybody says we need to be sending troops home, he's saying the opposite."

Sgt. Yobani Tejada, 27, of Las Vegas, fought in Fallujah and is one of the few from the battalion on his second tour in Iraq. He said the decision to deploy the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit had nothing to with the midterm elections that swept Democrats in control of Congress or the calls for a new direction in Iraq that reached a crescendo afterward.

"The planning for this mission began months and months ago, regardless of what was going on outside Iraq," he said.

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