TARMIYAH, Iraq—While much of the area around the town of Taji, Iraq, is racked with sectarian violence and insurgent attacks on American troops, Tarmiyah is one of the successes.
Soldiers used to call the main road in Tarmiyah the racetrack. When patrols came through the Sunni town, north of Baghdad, they gunned their engines and drove as fast as possible, hoping not to be hit by a shower of rocket-propelled grenades. Tarmiyah was controlled by insurgents who roamed the streets with AK-47s. There were only 20 policemen in a town of 45,000 residents.
"Every other night the police station would get shot up, and the IP (Iraqi police) would huddle up and just hope not to die," said Col. Jim Pasquarette, the brigade commander for the 4th Infantry Division in the area.
In March, the U.S. Army held a recruiting drive for the police force. Fifty-seven men promised they would join. When the day came to ride to the police recruiting center in Baghdad, not a single man showed.
Then in a three-day span, five Iraqi soldiers were killed in the town.
Pasquarette decided that he'd had enough. On March 25, hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers rode into Tarmiyah, backed by tanks and attack helicopters. But instead of the fight that Pasquarette was expecting, the day was relatively quiet.
American soldiers walked through the marketplace and handed out leaflets explaining that they were going to spend $7 million on construction projects, including a major water pipeline and a health clinic.
They also blocked the city off completely with a perimeter of triple-stacked bales of concertina wire and told residents that instead of leaving in a week or two—as is often the case after major U.S. operations in small, troubled Sunni towns—they'd be living in a schoolhouse in the middle of town. The insurgents, they said, wouldn't be coming back next week to punish townspeople who cooperated with the Americans.
And, U.S. officers promised, Iraqi troops soon would be the ones manning the checkpoints.
Within a week, some 2,000 Iraqis signed up to join the police.
Today, joint American-Iraqi patrols walk through the marketplace without watching their backs. Attacks in the town have dropped to almost nothing, and attacks in the wide swath of land surrounding it have gone down by at least 10 percent, according to military officials.
How long that will last no one knows.
"It's been a great success, but it's just one `sig-act' away from failure," said Pasquarette, using military-speak for significant enemy action. "There's no cruise control over here."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.