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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Welcome to Ramadi

Joao Silva for The New York Times
Marines looking for insurgents run through a
street filled with smoke, which provides them
with cover. In three years in Ramadi, the
Marine Corps and the Army have tried
nearly everything to bring this provincial capital
of 400,000 under control. Nothing has worked.

In Ramadi, Fetid Quarters and Unrelenting Battles
Published: July 5, 2006

RAMADI, Iraq, July 4 โ€” The Government Center in the middle of this devastated town resembles a fortress on the wild edge of some frontier: it is sandbagged, barricaded, full of men ready to shoot, surrounded by rubble and enemies eager to get inside.

A view of buildings in downtown Ramadi that have been destroyed by fighting between insurgent guerrillas and American soldiers and marines. More Photos ยป

The American marines here live eight to a room, rarely shower for lack of running water and defecate in bags that are taken outside and burned.

The threat of snipers is ever present; the marines start running the moment they step outside. Daytime temperatures hover around 120 degrees; most foot patrols have been canceled because of the risk of heatstroke.

The food is tasteless, the windows boarded up. The place reeks of urine and too many bodies pressed too close together for too long.

"Hey, can you get somebody to clean the toilet on the second floor?" one marine yelled to another from his office. "I can smell it down here."

And the casualties are heavy. Asked about the wounded under his command, Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio, 30, of the Bronx, rattled off a few.

"Let's see, Lance Corporal Tussey, shot in the thigh.

"Lance Corporal Zimmerman, shot in the leg.

"Lance Corporal Sardinas, shrapnel, hit in the face.

"Lance Corporal Wilson, shrapnel in the throat."

"That's all I can think of right now," the captain said.

So it goes in Ramadi, the epicenter of the Iraqi insurgency and the focus of a grinding struggle between the American forces and the guerrillas.


While the focus in Baghdad and other large Iraqi cities may be reconciliation or the political process, here it is still war. Sometimes the Government Center is assaulted by as many as 100 insurgents at a time.

Last week a midnight gun battle between a group of insurgents and American marines lasted two hours and ended only when the Americans dropped a laser-guided bomb on an already half-destroyed building downtown. Six marines were wounded; it was unclear what happened to the insurgents.

"We go out and kill these people," said Captain Del Gaudio, the commander here. "I define success as continuing to kill the enemy to allow the government to work and for the Iraqi Army to take over."

Government Mostly in Name

That day seems a long way off. The Iraqi government exists here in little more than name. Last week about $7 million disappeared from the Rafidain Bank โ€” most of the bank's deposits โ€” right under the nose of an American observation post next door. An Iraqi police officer was shot in the face and dumped in the road, his American ID card stuck between his fingers.

The governor of the province, Mamoun Sami Rashid al-Alwani, still goes to work here under an American military escort. But many of the province's senior officials deserted him after the kidnapping and beheading of his secretary in May.

posted by Steve @ 2:35:00 AM

2:35:00 AM

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