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Signs Of Hope In Iraq's Hottest Spot

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."

The sheikhs have formed associations in their villages similar to neighborhood watches. The new police recruits are stepping up the protection with their new skills from training, received first in Jordan or Baghdad, then in Ramadi — often with U.S. military trainers.

"A lot of it has to do with, they know they are going to protect their community," said Maj. Paul Weyrauch, of the Ramadi Training Center, which is located on a U.S. military base where nearly 60 Iraqi recruits currently reside.

This week the sheikhs held what was billed as a "reconstruction" conference, during which Sittar reminded other tribal leaders that once areas are free of violence, the Americans will leave.

But "the nature of this conflict is one that takes time," said Zilmer, of the continuing unrest.

Sittar himself is provided with security by American forces, and as he spoke to reporters a rocket slammed into the ground near the building where the conference was being held.

Three tribes remain un-cooperative with the U.S. military, and the enemy in Ramadi is still elusive, causing a steady stream of American casualties.

"Outside of Baghdad, this is the main fight here in Iraq," said Lechner. "When we got here (in June), we accounted for about 60 percent of the casualties on a daily basis. Ramadi has been a serious battlefield for about three years now, so we're fighting some pretty skilled enemies out there."

Most of the U.S. casualties are due to roadside bombs and snipers.

Without releasing the actual figures, the U.S. military says daily attacks have dropped off, and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are becoming more rudimentary in design. Officials give much of the credit for the improved security situation to the local tribal leaders.

"There's a lot of fighting left to do here," Lechner said, "but if you compare this to what it was seven or eight months ago, there is not a place in this city that al Qaeda controls."

"There were parts of town that Coalition forces would not even maneuver through because it was just too dangerous," Shoffner said. "There were lots of mines and IEDs. Now it's small arms attacks primarily. It's the best way they can engage us."

U.S. military commanders say keeping Iraqi recruitment numbers up and growing is key to the steady improvement of security in Anbar.

"I'm not suggesting the place is not dangerous, but the Iraqi police and the army are improving," Zilmer said. "And all of those things are now squeezing out al Qaeda."

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