Michael Totten has an amazing look inside the former capital of al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq, an-Ramadi. Ramadi has been devastated by incredible combat over the past few years, but has recently become relatively quiet. Totten notes the change that occurred their in the past year:
“Market Street [the main street downtown] was completely controlled by Al Qaeda,” Lieutenant Welch said. “They rolled down the streets, pointed guns at people, and said we are in charge. They had crazy requirements for the locals. They weren’t allowed to cut their hair. Girls were banned from going to school. They couldn’t shave or smoke. One guy defiantly lit a cigarette and they shot him four times.”…
“Al Qaeda hit a six month old baby with a mortar when they were trying to hit us,” Lieutenant Hightower said when he got off the phone. “They also hit a six year old girl. We went in and medi-vacced the victims, and we made lots of friends that day. It was a clarifying experience for the Iraqis.”
It was a clarifying experience for the Iraqis because they had been raised on virulent anti-American conspiracy theories and propaganda from Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party. They truly believed the Army and Marines were there to steal their oil and women. Americans saving the lives of children wounded by fellow Sunni Arabs who passed themselves off as liberators was not what many Iraqis ever expected to see.
“The six month baby had shrapnel in his head,” Lieutenant Hightower said. “The six year old girl had shrapnel in her leg. It was the most disturbing thing I’ve seen since I got here.” This from a man who saw one of his own men shot in the head by a sniper.
The Anbar Awakening represents a true turning point in the history of Iraq. The Iraqi people rose up themselves and decided that they had enough and that al-Qaeda had to be stopped. What has been accomplished in al-Anbar could not have been done with the US alone. The people of al-Anbar, especially the brave shiekhs who have put their lives on the line to declare war against terrorism, have taken control of their own destiny.
Totten’s journalism is incredible, and the quality of his reporting in a fair world would be spread far and wide. He gives us a look into an Iraq we never see, and simply reports what’s going on rather than trying to add his own spin. We need more reporting like that, and if the quality of mainstream journalism were equal to what these talented amateurs are producing, many of the myths that surround Iraq would never have formed. We as Americans and participants in a democratic system of government need to be able to get accurate information to make informed decisions. The mainstream media is by and large not providing that crucial context. Michael Totten’s riveting dispatches from Iraq provide that context, and it is the sort of thing that is well deserving of the highest awards in journalism.