The Mayor of Ar Rutbah

The Mayor of Ar Rutbah

By James A. Gavrilis Page 1 of 4

November/December 2005

Amid the chaos in Iraq, one company of U.S. Special Forces achieved what others have not: a functioning democracy. How? By relying on common sense, the trust of Iraqis, and recollections from Political Science 101. Now, their commander reveals the gritty reality about nation-building in Iraq, from the ground up.

As our long column of tan trucks rode down Iraq’s Business Highway 10 at 6 o’clock in the morning on April 9, 2003, I focused on my instincts and battle training, keeping an open mind and preparing for whatever lay ahead. After three weeks of intense firefights, the Fedayeen Saddam fighters had finally slithered away. The last thing I expected to do once we entered Ar Rutbah, a Sunni city of about 25,000 in the Anbar province near Jordan and Syria, was to begin postwar reconstruction. I had not planned or prepared for governing, nor had I received any guidance or assistance in how to do so. But then, nothing in war is expected.

With just six 12-man teams and an area of desert about the size of New Jersey, we viewed the city as a major complication in our mission to stop the ballistic missile launches from western Iraq. A town the size of Ar Rutbah could easily swallow the entire company. And in this conflict where special ops forces were in high demand, we had to move to Baghdad as soon as possible. Civil administration would have to be the responsibility of conventional troops following in our tracks. Of course, the Fedayeen were not interested in our itinerary. For weeks, they had entrenched themselves in the city, using civilians as shields. Every time we approached, Ar Rutbah became a hornet’s nest, and small-arms fire turned into machine gun and rocket fire. Although we overwhelmed the enemy each time, it became clear that the Fedayeen had to be forced out. So on that day in early April, as the rest of the world watched a statue of Saddam fall in Baghdad, we began our own small revolution.


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