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.
Because the Marines have sought to keep the center open to the public, virtually anyone is admitted, as long as the person has some form of identification and is unarmed. Insurgents often gain entry this way and post threatening messages on walls and office doors, warning politicians not to cooperate with the U.S. government.
Rashid emerged to fill a leadership vacuum left here May 29 when the body of Gov. Raja Nawaf Farhan Mahalawi was found in a house near the city of Rawah after a firefight between Marines and insurgents.
As local leaders cast about for someone to fill Mahalawi's shoes, the province's police chief made a brief and ill-fated bid, setting up shop in the governor's office and convening meetings of supporters. Marines told him to return to his previous post. Then a former Anbar governor, Fassal Raikan Nijres Gaood, who was voted out of office in January, declared the election invalid and pronounced himself the province's rightful leader.
But under Iraqi law, only the provincial council could fill the position. On June 1, it chose Rashid, who once led Anbar's provincial capital.
Frustrated by the failure of bureaucrats to come to work, he began his tenure by instituting a rule that they must arrive by 9 a.m. and get his permission to leave before 2 p.m. He also implemented tighter controls over reconstruction funds distributed by the U.S. military.
The competition for reconstruction contracts has been replete with scams, military officials here said. For example, when the Marines instituted a policy requiring at least three bids for contracts exceeding $10,000, they found that the same company had made offers on three different sets of letterhead.
"Thank God we still have control over the purse strings or it would just be all war profiteering and corruption," said Maj. Benjamin Busch, a civil affairs officer.
Rashid showed his intolerance of wasteful spending at a recent meeting of the Provincial Reconstruction Development Committee. Seated around a large wooden conference table were business and political leaders and a few Marine officers. About halfway into the four-hour session, an engineer asked the Marines for $49,000 to repair potholes on a Ramadi street.
"This is not a project that needs so much money," Rashid interjected sharply. "I will not give $49,000 to fix one hole in a street."
Much of the discussion at the meeting focused on how reconstruction projects here have been disrupted by the continuing attacks.
In another sign of the influence insurgents wield in the region, on June 16, local Sunni leaders scheduled a conference on the future of Anbar at Ramadi's main mosque. The Marines agreed to stay almost a mile away from the site so as not to intimidate any of the several hundred expected guests. But dozens of masked, gun-toting insurgents gathered in the streets outside the mosque and shooed away anyone who tried to go inside.
"Could we go in house-by-house and level half the city? Yes, we could. But I don't think it has to be done here the way we did Fallujah," Sokoloski said. "We have a new governor in place who is engaged and who we believe in. Why would we want to go in and destroy all that?"
"We don't have as large a force as they had here last year, so we have to be more focused and smarter," he said.
Instead, Marines are working to fix the province's police force. Police across Anbar were fired last November when many stopped coming to work after the Fallujah offensive. After being reinstated, they were dismissed again after refusing to patrol the streets during Iraq's Jan. 30 elections.
Insurgents have destroyed all but two of Ramadi's police stations, and while the province has more than 1,000 policemen on its payrolls, only a few unarmed traffic officers work the streets.
In what Marines describe as an encouraging sign, a few dozen policemen have begun showing up at the Government Center for training sessions. Last week they practiced storming a vacant building with AK-47 rifles that they are permitted to carry only during training.
"We are frustrated. We haven't been patrolling for three months now," said Ali Rasmi Khalaf, 38, a 13-year police veteran. "We could go out if we had weapons."
But the Marines say the officers are not yet ready to return to the streets. "They need a lot of work," said Maj. Jonathan Foster, a liaison to the local police, who chided trainees for pointing their rifles at each other's feet as they entered the building.
"The question is, do you want to throw them back out there and have it be a disaster and have a bunch of people killed?" he added. "Or do you want to wait until it might be successful? Things here sometimes take longer than anyone would like."