Major operations begin against jihadis in Ramadi?

The battle for AQ central wasn’t supposed to start until next month, when the surge contingent of new Marines is in place. But they’ve got some momentum and an alternate supply of security forces, so they’re making their move on the hive in the downtown neighborhood of Mulaab.

As troops attached to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division wage a pitched battle against entrenched militants in the city’s downtown — a fight marked by dense urban terrain, booby-trapped buildings and sustained gunbattles — units to the city’s immediate west, north and northeast are experiencing an unprecedented calm.

The split personality in this provincial capital of roughly 500,000 largely has to do with a recent alliance between U.S. forces and a dozen local tribes who say they’ve had enough of militants whose stated goal is to oust U.S. troops and establish an Islamic caliphate in the region…

The focus changed radically in November … when area tribes sided with U.S. forces and volunteered more than 4,500 local men for service in the Iraqi police and associated security units dubbed Emergency Response Units, or ERUs.

The goal is to find and neutralize the estimated 60 insurgents holed up in the neighborhood. That doesn’t sound like it’d be hard, but, er…

The downtown fight has been a hard one, as militants used the lull to build up their defenses, officers said, lining streets with vehicle and anti-personnel bombs, rigging the sides of buildings with improvised rockets and cementing explosives into courtyard walls…

“Entire buildings have been rigged with explosives,” Charlton said. “They’ve literally made the building a weapon.”

Explosives teams have worked around the clock clearing the area of caches. Soldiers have discovered numerous roadside bomb and car bomb “factories.” Recently, troops found that a local school had been converted into an enemy firing range, complete with silhouette targets.

Once the area is clear they’ll start building police stations and embed there, much as they’re doing right now in Baghdad with the “mini-forts.” It’s strange to say given the fact that Anbar has been the heart of the Iraqi jihad for years now, but we probably stand a better chance of pacifying that area at this point (thanks to the Sunnis’ cooperation and sectarian homogeneity) than we do Baghdad. Even the numbers here sound promising — only 60 jihadis estimated in a neighborhood of 15,000 residences. At that ratio, you’d think the locals would have started bumping them off themselves.