Down and Out in Anbar Province

From Holden:

Where unhappiness and disillusionment rule the day:

Four months into their tour of duty at one of the most dangerous American bases in Iraq, young marines say the slow pace of progress is shaking their faith in their mission.


“I don’t think any of us even care what happens to this country,” [Lance Corporal David] Goward said, as a half-dozen marines, all stationed here in the capital of the restive Anbar Province, nodded in agreement. “I’m here to make sure these guys get home safely. And they’re here to make sure I do.”


From Goward’s point of view, the United States has fulfilled its goals in Iraq: toppling Saddam Hussein, capturing him, handing off formal sovereignty to Iraqis. “What’s left?” he asked.


“I haven’t seen any improvement since I’ve been here,” said Corporal Jaime Duenas, 23, of Nogales, Arizona. He contrasted Ramadi to southern Iraq, where he was stationed last year just after the invasion and worked with locals happy to see Saddam toppled.

“Last year, it was pretty chill; kids ran up to us and waved,” he said. “Here, kids throw rocks.”

“People are tired of us being here,” said Lance Corporal Anthony Robert, 21, of Charlottesville, Virginia. “It’s the same as if someone came to the U.S. and started taking over. You’d do what you’d have to do.”

Lance Corporal Kenneth Burke, 22, of Lufkin, Texas, looked up from his cards. “OIF-1 had a purpose,” he said, referring to Operation Iraqi Freedom 1, the Marine Corps deployment in the invasion. “This one, I don’t think so.”


“It doesn’t matter how much America looks like it’s trying to help,” said the squad’s leader, Corporal Glen Handy, 26, of Las Vegas. “If we stay 10 years or if we stay one year, we’re going to leave and there’s going to be chaos here.”

The marines are surprised at some of their own ugly emotions. The Army troops whom the marines replaced told them, “You’re going to learn to hate these people,” Goward recalled. “I thought, ‘With that attitude, no wonder you’re having a hard time.’ But you know what? They’re absolutely right.”


“I can’t say we’re failing in our mission,” [Corporal Nat Canaga] concluded at the end of the talk around the card table. “Our mission has changed. It’s just to kill the bad guys. And we’re doing that.”