Security tight in tense Ramadi
Anbar province is a different place today even though danger is never far away.
Last modified: 6 Mar 2010 07:04
I had never thought I would be reporting from the capital of Anbar, Ramadi.
Simply because of what I had heard and read about this city.
Ramadi and Falluja are the main cities of Anbar and they were the most violent in the country.
But it’s now a different place despite being still dangerous. Its residents say: "Oh, it’s much much different then before."
I had a walk in the city’s main market and streets. What I saw was ordinary, simple people going on with their daily lives.
But you can feel the hardships they went through by looking in their eyes or faces.
The sight of nervous police and army soldiers yelling at people or firing in the air reminds everyone that anything can happen.
At the office of the Anbar police chief, the phone always rings and there is always something new. This time: a suspected minibus loaded with explosives is in town.
A couple of days later, a lorry packed with more than a tonne of Composition 4 (C4 - a highly explosive material - is caught after failing to detonate. The driver is only 18 years old.
And with the election approaching, Anbar is be ready to vote.
Securing Anbar means securing one-third of the country. It is the biggest province and has borders with three countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria.
So, on the eve of the national elections, security is visibly much tighter.
Police and army checkpoints are scattered every where.
The Anbar operation commander and the police chief both say they have a total of more than 60,000 of army and police personnel involved in this election.
Their main mission is to protect roads, bridges, polling stations and voters. And there will be a ban on vehicles and motor bikes.
Police will impose a cordon 50 metres from each polling station.
Army soldiers will create another cordon 200 meters away.
And there’s also an emergency plan if anything goes wrong.
What’s new in Anbar, says the commanders, is the development of intelligence gathering. Also the level of Anbar residents tipping security forces off is increasing, they say.
The security forces have arrested more than 40 people on terrorism charges, caught car bombers and seized explosive vests and weapon caches.
The commanders are confident that the Anbar Wedding will go smoothly.
But the interesting point to make is that the army and police say they are doing everything on their own.
Planning and executing is all Iraqi.
There is no US military involvement in protecting or patrolling the voting stations. The role the Americans play is an advisory one.
And if things go wrong, the Americans are always here to "help".
But what’s certain is that the US commanders are watching the performance of the Iraqi security forces very closely.
The Americans want the Iraqis to be up to the task and to take charge of their own security as they withdraw their combat troops in August and complete the pullout process in 2011, in the absence of any setbacks.