A few short months ago, Hit on the Euphrates was one of the “most dangerous” places. But the Marines and the Iraqis fought the insurgents and AQI and killed some, reconciled others and drove most of the rest out of town. Yesterday Hit returned to the care of Iraqi police, army and security forces.
I could tell the Iraqis were proud. The Marines told me that they had been practicing all week to make sure everything went as planned. I attended the ceremonies and watched members of Iraqi IP, Army and special units march by and then raise the Iraqi flag. People have to respect themselves before they can give respect to others. The Iraqis in Hit had won back their self respect. I think they lost it for a while, first when coalition forces so rapidly defeated the Iraqi army and then when insurgents and AQI were able to push around local people and leaders. But now that they have pushed back, now that they have won their victory fighting side by side with our Marines, they have earned the right to feel good about themselves again.
The governor of Al Anbar came and gave the usual speeches as did Mayor Hikmat. He is the cousin of Hatem, the Albu Nimr sheik at whose home I have had many good meals. I am getting to like these guys and as I learn more about what they went through, my respect for them grows.
Events like this indicate confidence in the Iraqi forces to take increasing responsibility for their security. Los Angeles Times reporter Tony Perry wrote this article describing the transfer. Some of the Marines told me that it was significant that we could attend such a large and public event w/o body armor. They know about such things.
As is increasingly becoming common, we drove to the event. When I flew over the place, I thought that, except for the areas right near the Euphrates, the land below was just featureless desert. Now that I have driven over it, I understand that I was … right. This is the most barren place I have ever seen. When I drove through Nevada and Arizona I though I saw barren, but I was mistaken. At least those places have tumble weeds, cactus and cool rock formations. In the Iraqi desert, even the wind doesn’t make much noise because it blows across soft dirt and surfaces with rounded edges. There are occasional breaks, oases with date palms and citrus, but they are few & far between. The incongruous thing is that I see sheep & goats. I know that the sheep must be eating something, but I really cannot figure out what that could be.