Signs Of Hope In Iraq's Hottest Spot

An American military advisor gives the okay for Iraqi soldiers to approach the shooting range during a training exercise at the Ramadi Training Center.
CBS/Cami McCormick
This story was written by CBS News correspondent Cami McCormick, embedded with U.S. forces in Ramadi.

President Bush announced this week that 4,000 additional troops will stay in Iraq's volatile Anbar province, but some U.S. commanders say it's additional Iraqi boots on the ground they want and need.

"Even more important is the arrival and development of Iraqi forces," Marine Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer told CBS News.

There are some encouraging signs.

"A year ago you could not recruit in Ramadi," Zilmer said of enticing Iraqis into the country's most dangerous profession. "Last March, zero recruits."

Most of the police stations had been destroyed. Only one police chief remained on duty. U.S. soldiers pleaded with him to remain on the job the day after a suicide bomber blew up a vehicle at his station's entrance. Police were regularly kidnapped, tortured and their families threatened.

In June, there were only 25 recruits for all of Ramadi, which, along with Fallujah, are Anbar province's two largest towns, and regular hotspots for coalition forces.

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"I think we're making progress now," Zilmer said.

There are six new police stations and more than 2,500 police recruits have stepped up since the summer.

The key to the turnaround was the enlistment of Sunni tribal leaders, like Sheikh Abdel Sittar. He and a dozen others urged local men to sign up for service after two sheiks were attacked by al Qaeda forces that are believed to make up 70 percent of the insurgency here. The other 30 percent is termed "local resistance."

"It's a black and white fight between us and al Qaeda, and when I say 'us', I mean the local people, the Sunnis of al Anbar and us," said Lt. Col. James Lechner, deputy commander of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, U.S. Army. "They feel like victims of terrorism as well and that's why they joined us."

The sheikhs only asked that any recruits they got to enlist be allowed to return to work in their own neighborhoods.

"When the Iraqi policemen are on the streets now, they know the local tribesmen are looking out for their families," U.S. Army Brigade Operations Officer Maj. Thomas Shoffner said," so it was a win-win situation."

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.