Blick auf "Combat Outpost Norseman", im Hintergrund Matt
In March, though, the 3/11 Marines were transferred to Rutbah in Anbar's desolate western reaches. Here, the Twentynine Palms, California-based unit learned that not all is tranquil in the province: young men still hide grenades in the streets, city leaders are targeted by assasins and the local police fortress bears fresh scars from rocket attacks.
„We're in the wild, wild west", said First Lt. Hamilton Ashworth, shortly after his unit arrived at the outpost.
Um was es geht? Den Irak sicher machen
The Marines have since been in a tough fight to oust the remaining militants from this last stronghold in Anbar. The men felt an urgency to their work. Not only were their tours ending this mont, but the upcoming presidential elections is casting uncertainty over the future commitment of U.S. forces in Iraq. Presumed Republican candidate John McCain, who has a son serving with the Marines in Iraq, has vowed to keep up for fight for as long as it takes. Both Democrat contenders, though, are calling for troop reductions. Frontrunner Barack Obama has received widespread support for his anti-war
credentials - unlike Hillary Clinton, Obama has consistently voted against the war. And new opinion polls show at least two-thirds of all Americans opposing the war.
"Wie es der Wirtschaft hier geht? Hier gibt es keine 'Wirtschaft'"
The Marines want to finish their work fast before politicians call them
home. That's why they are scrambling to bring security to Anbar province, with Rutbah posing among the toughest of challenges. The mission's priority was underscored by a recent visit to the remote combat outpost by Major General John Kelly, the commander of all coalition forces in western Iraq.
Deep inside a dimly lit, thick-walled fortress in the heart of Rutbah, I accompanied Kelly as he met with the town's mayor and police chief. He wanted to know why the insurgency has not yet fizzled in the town. Outside the meeting room, Marines, including Matthew Shipp, stood guard. The general arrived under tight secrecy and security - he would be a huge target for insurgents.
After removing his helmet and body armor, the general asked the police chief: "How are the people doing? Are the schools open for children? How's the economy?"
The mayor, who gave his name as Qasim, fumbled with the gold watch hanging from his wrist. He straightened his suit jacket and gave a pained smile.
"The economy? We don't have one", he said.
Auf der nächsten Seite: Was die Wirtschaft mit radfahrenden Kindern zu tun hat und die Hoffnung auf Pizza in der Heimat.
Ohne Sicherheit keine funktionierende Wirtschaft
Rutbah has no oil, he said. It's purely a trading town. And it is now withering from both the al-Qaeda-backed insurgency and the coalition-led traffic checkpoints, Qasim said. The checkpoints are aimed at catching fighters and weapons flowing into Iraq from other countries. Rutbah is where highways from Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia converge before heading to Baghdad. These checkpoints are believed to be slowing the flow of fighters, but they are also slowing the trucks that carry food and petroleum and other goods needed by the citizens here.
Qasim threw his hands into the air and said Rutbah is faced with an impossibly sticky situation. "There could not be an economy if there is no security", he said, his words translated by the general's interpretor.
Mehr Polizisten als je zuvor
Much of the rest of Anbar has calmed because of last year's surge in U.S. forces, combined with a massive hiring spree of Iraqi police officers, General Kelly said. A year ago, about 6,000 police patrolled the huge province. Many did not have weapons and were easy targets for both bullets and bribes. Today, about four times as many police patrol the cities of Anbar, but many still remain unpaid. In Rutbah, about 50 of the town's 337 officers have not been paid for months.
"If you bring the salaries back, there will be a statue of you downtown," Qasim promised.
After the visit, Kelly said leaders and sheikhs across Anbar are growing nervous of the inevitable reduction in U.S. troop numbers. They might not like the presence of American forces on Iraqi soil, but most are even more weary of the chaos and violence brought on by the last five years of war, he said. They see the U.S. as key in helping their country rebuild its own security forces.
"We're pretty close from the point of view of security", said Kelly, now in his third tour in Iraq. He then made a reference to children learning how to ride bicycles. "They have their training wheels on. Most kids don't like their training wheels taken off, either."
Matthew geht mit den Leuten auf Patrouille, die oft auch noch seine größten Feinde sind
Hours after the meeting, the mayor's home was sprayed with bullets. Nobody was hurt, but members of the town's fledgling police force piled into their pickup trucks and raced into the desert in a vain search for the gunmen.