At one time, Anbar Province appeared irretrievably lost to terrorists and insurgents. The name Anbar became synonymous with failure, as al-Qaeda in Iraq established their so-called “Islamic State of Iraq” and brutally oppressed the populace. Of all the provinces, a handoff to Iraqi control seemed the most unlikely.
The transfer of what was once the hub of the country’s Sunni insurgency is a “major progress” for all of Iraq, said Brigadier Gen. David Perkins, the spokesman for the Multi-National Force in Iraq.
The transfer ceremony took place in Ramadi, the capital of the western province, and was attended by Iraqi officials and U.S. military brass.
“We are all well aware of what the security situation was in Anbar even a year ago,” Perkins said. “And the fact that that has been able to be turned around, that the Iraqi citizens that live there want to stand up on their own, [that] they want to take control of the province on their own … it’s a major progress not only for Anbar, but for all of Iraq.”
More than 25,000 U.S. troops serve in the sprawling Anbar province west of Baghdad; most of them Marines. They will remain for the time being but will shift their mission to supporting Iraqi forces, when needed.
Before the surge, Anbar had 5,000 police officers, and the mainly Shi’ite Iraqi Army couldn’t hold its positions in the primarily Sunni province. Now Anbar employs over 37,000 police officers, and a more balanced military has built trust with the local Sunni population, thanks to the assistance of the Americans. Anbar becomes the 11th province of 18 to transfer to Iraqi control, and the first primarily Sunni province.
The growth of trained, professional security and police forces gives Iraq its ability to control its own area. The surge gave the US and Baghdad breathing room while these security forces reached a state of readiness that allow them to handle this mission. Nouri al-Maliki’s missions in militia-held areas like Basra this year were a coming-out party for the Iraqi Army, and not too many people doubt their abilities now — including the terrorist stragglers remaining in Anbar and Diyala.
American forces will start leaving Anbar, either for more contentious areas (like Diyala), Afghanistan, or home. They are leaving Anbar in victory, rather than being forced to retreat in defeat by politicians who wanted to run rather than fight. The people of Anbar and Iraq understand the difference, and can now control their own destiny rather than live as slaves to the lunatics of AQI.