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May 9, 2004
Marines Making Friends In Fallujah

After over a month of bad news, especially in Abu Ghraib, Fallujah and Najaf, Americans have been fed a steady diet of our troops under fire and under suspicion. Today's Los Angeles Times looks at another aspect of our troops on the front lines by reporting on Marine efforts to build relationships with the people of the area around Fallujah:

When the Marines in mid-March assumed responsibility for much of Al Anbar province from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, they hoped to emphasize the first part of the 1st Marine Division's motto, "No better friend." Instead they found themselves emphasizing the second part, "No worse enemy."

Now they're attempting a new beginning. ... Accompanied by Navy corpsmen and a chaplain, the Marines spent much of the day handing out toys, candy, crackers, backpacks and soccer balls to eager children in this farming village adjacent to Fallouja. For adults, the Americans had bags of planting seed, farm tools and sluice gates to help with irrigation.

This was to be the Marines' strategy for winning friends in the restive Sunni Triangle region. But when four American civilian contractors were killed and their bodies mutilated, the newly arrived Marines were ordered to place a cordon around Fallouja, where they battled heavily armed insurgents for nearly a month.

The Marines understand that some of the people they assist are the same ones who shot at them earlier, before the truce went into effect. One anecdote reported by Tony Perry mentions the sight of certain motorcycles known to be favored by the insurgents for night attacks. However, the Marines stick to their job, because as a sergeant states, they have to remain professionals:

"You have to put that aside," said Staff Sgt. Frank Ortega, 37, of Oceanside. "You know that some of these people were probably shooting at us last week. But this week, if they don't shoot at us, we can make good things happen for them. You have to be a professional and drive on."

When you hear certain politicians or pundits claim that we've already lost because of a few idiots at Abu Ghraib or because Moqtada al-Sadr ginned up a few hundred armed fanatics, remember that we employ many different ways of fighting this war, and that these Marines are far more indicative of how we conduct ourselves in the field. We have listened to these oracles of doom before, telling us that we can't beat the terrorists, that the rest of the world hates us and so we should give up. Well, the Marines haven't given up -- they're still reaching out to the people of Iraq and slowly building trust and friendship. We shouldn't go wobbly, either.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 9, 2004 10:07 AM

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